Key issues for water management in the Netherlands include the integration of the water system’s functions for ecology and society, their sustainable development, a river basin approach, and increasing the natural ‘resilience’ of the water systems. As a result of the large floods in 1993 and 1995, in 1997 a coordinating project for the Meuse was initiated, ‘De Maaswerken’. This integrated project aims on the one hand to reduce the chance of flooding, and on the other hand to develop large-scale nature areas and stimulate economic development by furthering water transport. To this end, the Meuse will be deepened and broadened over a length of about 200 km. The aim of the FIRMA project is to provide an integrated framework for decision making in inland water management in the Meuse basin of the Province of Limburg within the context of the project ‘De Maaswerken’. This will involve:
  • Identification of consistent integrated scenarios of socio-economic and environmental changes in the Limburg part of the Meuse basin
  • Analysis of the hydrological changes that may result from different scenarios and management strategies and the consequences for the user functions of the water system
  • Analysis and simulation of consumer behaviour and its impact on future water demand in the Limburg part of the Meuse basin
  • Analysis and simulation of the rule governed behaviour of water managers and its consequence for future water supply in the Limburg part of the Meuse basin
  • Analysis and simulation of the dynamic interplay among various stakeholders such as water managers, landscape planners, shipping transport experts, ecologists, jurists, archaeologists, citizens, and NGO-representatives to develop and implement an integrated masterplan for the Meus

3 main issues

  • Flood prevention
  • Improvement of the navigation route
  • Development and recovery of (aquatic) nature in and alongside the river

* Meuse and Maas are synonymous names for the same river!

For water management in Limburg in general several interrelated issues can be specified under the general policy for natural and resilient water systems. These are:

  • Sustainable water supply: partly shift the water supply from groundwater to surface water to surface water resources
  • Increasing infiltration, conservation and retention of water for both natural, agricultural and developed areas
  • Recovery of aquatic nature and drought prevention
  • Sustainable water management in developed areas Decrease of pollution from diffuse sources like agriculture, navigation and traffic

the maaswerken project

In December 1993 and January 1995 the Meuse unexpectedly flooded in the region of Limburg, affecting some 10 000 people and causing several hundred millions guilders of damage. As a direct result of these floods the national government and the province of Limburg in collaboration initiated the co-ordinating project "De Maaswerken". This integrated project aims on the one hand to reduce the chance of flooding, and on the other hand to develop natural areas[4] and stimulate economic development by furthering water transport. To this end, the Meuse will be deepened and broadened over a length of 200 km. The extracted gravel will be exploited to co-finance the project. Additional measures include the (re-) construction of embankments, sluices and so-called "clay shields" that will drive up groundwater on the riverbanks.

The most important governmental institutions related to the Maaswerken are the project organisation "De Maaswerken", the province of Limburg and the national Ministries of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries (LNV), and Transport and Public Works (V&W). Especially the organisation Rijkswaterstaat, the organ of the Ministry of V&W that is responsible for the execution of public works related to water, plays an important role. The organisation "De Maaswerken" was set up in 1997 taking its employees partly from Rijkswaterstaat, the Province of Limburg, the Ministry of LNV and many other local, provincial and national governmental organisations. The final responsibility for the project lies with the minister of V&W.



All relevant stakeholders are displayed in Table 1: Maaswerken stakeholders on distinct scale levels

stakeholders scaling level
  Local Regional National International
Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries . . . .
Ministry of Traffic and Public Works . . . .
Foreign governments . . . .
Benelux parliament . . . .
Province of Limburg . . . .
Municipalities . . . .
Rijkswaterstaat . . . .
Waterschappen, Zuiveringsschap . . . .
Citizens . . . .
Farmers . . . .
Water company . . . .
International users and polluters . . . .
chemical, paper industry . . . .
gravel extraction industry . . . .
navigation sector . . . .
NGOÍs: Milieudefensie, Natuur-monumenten, Greenpeace . . .  

environment characteristics

international catchment

The Meuse catchment, shown in figures 1and 2, lies mainly in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The Dutch province of Limburg is located entirely within the catchment. The Meuse is a rain fed river. Average rainfall in the catchment is the highest in the Ardennen region with around 1200 mm of rain annually. Through steep and rock based side rivers this water is transported quickly to the Meuse and reaches the Dutch border in about half a day.


Figure 1: The Meuse Catchment


Figure 2: Examples of rainfall and temperature data within the Meuse catchment

the limburg region

The Meuse in Limburg is a river without dikes. The stretch of land next to the river has therefore a relatively high risk of being flooded, although the resulting damage may be relatively low (material damage, no loss of lives). On the basis of morphological characteristics the Meuse can be subdivided into four parts): Grensmaas, Plassenmaas, Peelhorst and Venloslenk, the latter three being part of the Zandmaas. The Grensmaas is a gravel-based river flowing freely without the intervention of dams and sluices. This makes the river potentially valuable for nature development. The Grensmaas drains water from the regional groundwater system (effluent river). The Plassenmaas takes its name from the large gravel pits that were created through gravel extraction during the past decades. Yet, the gravel winning has ended this region is valuable for industry, shipping and recreation. After Neer the Meuse enters the Dutch delta, where the base of the riverbed consists mainly of sand. Dams and sluices are used to control water levels in order to make the river navigable. Here, river water recharges the groundwater reservoir (influent river). In Peelhorst the river valley is quite narrow; further downstream in Venloslenk the valley widens up.




trends in the environment

floods and water-related damage

Year Discharge (m3/s|) At Waterlevel (mNAP) At Damage Remarks
Dec 1643 - - ~48.7 Maastricht - Highest water level ever measured
Dec 1880 - - 20.77 Roermond - -
Mar 1910 - - ~46.1 Maastricht - -
Jan 1920 ~2250 Borgharen 20.6 Roermond - Similar discharges or larger happened ~ 10 times this century
Jan 1926 ~3100 Borgharen 42.92 Maastricht millions of guilders of damage, 14.000 refugees. Probably largest flood disaster. Breakthrough of dikes and inundation of "Land van Maas en Waal".
Jul 1980 ~ 2200 Borgharen - - - In summer !!
1984 ~ 2600 Maastricht - - - High water that caused the Belgians to build / raise their dikes. The Netherlands made plans, but they were never executed, probably related to the finishing of the Deltawerken project.
Dec 1993 3120 Borgharen 45.8 Borgharen 245 million guilders -
Jan 1995 ~ 3100 Borgharen 45.71 Borgharen 210.000 evacuated, 35 million guilders private damage. Threat of inundation Betuwe, land van Maas en Waal. With nine days in a row, this was longest high water of the century.



  • Centralization of water management in 1798
  • Main water works in Limburg in the twenties and thirties:
    • 1920-1940: Canalisation and construction of weirs and sluices
    • 1935: Julianakanaal
    • 1939: Albertkanaal
  • Extraction of gravel and sand started around ƒ?


Rainfall data is available from 1882 on. A clear indication of the Greenhouse effect cannot be seen.

land use

  • From 1834 to 1992 increase of 8% of forest area in the Ardennen
  • Indication of reduced retention in Zuid-Limburg due to different farming techniques and crops (leading to more pronounced discharge peak flows in streams)
  • Increased urbanization in the Meuse and Sambre valleys (between Charleroi and Liege), especially after 1980. Urbanization should not have a large effect on extreme flood events, since with extreme rainfall the point of complete saturation of the ground is reached quickly anyway (However, this is in discussion).


major changes and uncertainties that are expected to happen during the next decades in the environment and in the socio-economic boundary conditions

  • Morphological changes in the riverbed (deepening and widening)
  • Change in water demand
    • water withdrawal (lifestyle, technological development, economic development, etc.)
    • in-stream use (transport, nature)
  • Change in water supply - shift from groundwater to surface water
  • Land use change: from agricultural land to natural terrain from agricultural land to housing
  • Climate change
  • Institutional changes within Europe

    Many of these changes lead to: -> Change in runoff and water level

    Importantly, there might be changing perspectives in Europe, The Netherlands and Limburg. This may result in a changing appreciation of values like safety, nature and prosperity.


major questions that should be addressed with the model at the current stage of knowledge about the region and stakeholder interests

  • What measures within the Maaswerken project will lead to improvements for safety, shipping and nature (win win win) under changing socio-economic and physical boundary conditions?
  • What are the advantages of ABM within an integrated framework, and how can we combine ABM with IA?


organisation of participatory process with reference to problem specification

  • Identifying relevant stakeholders in relation to the three major questions mentioned at 1).
  • Informing the stakeholders about the project and the participatory process.
  • Characterizing goals, perception and potential impacts of each stakeholder separately.
  • Organize sessions with the group of stakeholders to study the interaction patterns.
  • Final session presenting the results. Note: Due to the complexity of our regional situation there will be a broad range of relevant stakeholders.



1. Trajectnota/MER Zandmaas/Maasroute, Hoofdnota.

2. MER Grensmaas, Hoofdrapport A.

3. Visie Maasdal Zandmaas/Maasroute.

4. Onderzoek watersnood Maas, Hoofdrapport "De Maas Meester"

5. Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS), statline

6. Met de stroom mee, Streekplan Grensmaas

7. In de ban van het water, de Volkskrant

8. Watersnood in Limburg, van 1900 tot nu, Pieter Trompetter.

9. Ruimte voor water, Thema bijdrage voor het POL

10. Walter, H. and Helmut Lieth (1960) Klimadiagramm-Weltatlas


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