Making deltas economically and ecologically viable

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How can you optimize a delta from an economic point of view while taking climate change into account? That’s what my research focuses on. I study fresh water resources in deltas but I also look at how stable or dynamic a delta needs to be.

We should strive for as much natural dynamics as possible without letting it harm the economy

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A delta is where a river and the sea meet. The river’s fresh water mixes with the sea’s salty water. It’s a dynamic location where the tide also plays a role. There are users that have a stake in these deltas: famers, nature preservers, fishermen, the shipping industry, or companies in charge of the drinking water supply. All these parties have different interests. For instance, boatman and farmers want a stable delta with fresh water without too greater tidal differences. But other users such as environmental organisations or in some cases the fishing industry benefit from a delta with more salty water.

One of the greatest challenges is getting these parties’ interest as much in line with each other as is possible. To achieve this we collaborate with all kinds of organized interest groups such as Agricultural branche organisation and the Natural Heritage Trust. I focus on the South-West of the Netherlands. I am a knowledge broker at the interface between science and practice. For instance, environmental organisations want to know how much salt an ecosystem can tolerate, which plant species are vulnerable to high salt concentrations and which plantspecies are important for society. Often, there are different insights on this. On the other hand, farmers want to know how much rain they can preserve within their soils and how much of it they can use for agricultural purposes. This is the kind of information and knowledge I have to offer.

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I provide knowledge for making long-term strategic choices. This knowledge is useful to companies. If, as a company, you know that the water will structurally become more salty, you have to take this into account in your operational management. But regional authorities in the field of nature conservation or water management are in dire need of such knowledge. The government has a lot to say, by granting certain permits or by investing into making some water bodies salty. I try to communicate knowledge about the possible consequences of these kind of decisions. This provides insights to certain questions such as: where do you want to stimulate agriculture? Or where do you want to develop natural countryside?

Why is this so important

There are all kinds of possible strategic solutions for dealing with deltas. In the most extreme case, you could say: let’s keep the sea out and dikes will make sure that no salty water comes land inwards. Around it, fresh water for agricultural purposes can be created. But this wouldn’t be a sensible choice. My advice? Nature loves dynamics and agriculture loves stability – both can be realised, but not at all locations simultaneously. So map where you can create dynamics and where you’d choose to produce food.

We should strive for as much natural dynamics as possible without letting it harm the economy. At the moment, we still tend to opt for static deltas. I dream of obtaining more insight into the balance between economy and ecology, what is the best way to achieve a balance, what are the threshold values and how do you avoid crossing them?


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How can you optimize development in a delta from both an economic as an ecological point of view? I contribute to knowledge development about this type of issues together with others. With this knowledge, you can make long-term, strategic choices. This is handy for local authorities but also for companies in the shipping or fishing industry.

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My dream for this project

I’d really like to make a connection between the business world and the government. Currently, we mainly work with the government but in the long run you’d like to get companies such as farmers, fishermen and the shipping industry involved, as well. The trick is working together towards a common interest. Then we wouldn’t all be working in our ivory towers anymore but we’d be determining our future together.

My expertise

Freshwater resources, Knowledge brokerClimate Adaptation, Delta dynamics, Ecology, Economy