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Interview with Jan Hateboer (Fryslân water board): dike reinforcement requires area-based collaboration

Posted at 28/01/2021 by Martijn van Staveren

Jan Hateboer (project manager at Fryslân water board) shares in an interview with Martijn van Staveren (All-Risk researcher) his experiences with the implementation of the new safety norms on the dikes of the Wadden Sea. He suggests adopting an area-based approach, look for improved coordination between government partners and better customization of dike reinforcement projects to be smart and efficient.

Contact details

Martijn van Staveren

Wageningen University

Dikes in the Wadden Sea along the North Dutch coast (source: H20 website,

Martijn: Please introduce yourself!

Jan: I have been working for the water board for about twenty years. The last eleven years, I have been project manager for water safety. In that role, I worked on the reinforcement of the flood defense in Harlingen and on the dike improvement on Ameland. Since September 2019, I have been involved in the reinforcement program for the Koehool – Lauwersmeer, Wadden Sea coast route. I also participated in the project-transcending exploration (POVW) for the Wadden Sea dikes, where innovations in hydraulic calculations, revetments and new dike concepts have been investigated.

Martijn:You are one of the end users of the legal, governance and implementation theme of All-Risk. How did your involvement in All-Risk started?

Jan: The Fryslân water board participated in the POV Wadden Sea dikes and through this route I became involved in the All-risk research program. What appealed to me was the desire not only to develop new knowledge in different disciplines, but also to actively exchange it. Even after completing the POV in 2019, with the All-Risk researchers in this E theme, we continue learning a lot about dike reinforcements in Natura2000 areas, following an area-oriented approach.

Water safety already starts way in front of a dike and does not stop immediately at its inner side.

Martijn: Theme E in All-Risk investigates, among other things, the governance of water safety and the roles of various organizations. what is your view on this?

Jan: Within the water board, we are of course constantly thinking about the role you have as a water board in realising water safety in both the short and long term. We see more and more potential in the development to work area-oriented. We don’t only focus on the dikes, but also on the landscape in which such a dike is located and engage stakeholders living in the area. A colleague of mine sometimes says: “we know the length, but not always the width of a dike”. This symbolises the ‘narrow’ focus of dike improvement, from toe to ditch, and highlights that things are changing.

Water safety already starts way in front of a dike and does not stop immediately at its inner side. I think that by means of an area-oriented approach you get a better insight into the possibilities in an area, both in terms of physical possibilities and in terms of cooperation. The Environmental and Planning Act also gives an impetus to this.

Wetterskip Fryslân started the exploration to strengthen the Wadden Sea dike between the hamlet of Koehool (above Tzummarum) and the Lauwersmeer following an area-oriented approach. Photographer: Daniël Hartog

Martijn: How does this area-oriented approach relate to other parties with a role in spatial organisation, in particular provinces and municipalities?

Jan: It is true that you have to keep a sharp eye on who is responsible for what. Although this often takes more time, it also offers opportunities to work cost-efficiently, to plan projects better, but also to communicate this efficiency to stakeholders in an area. From that perspective, various government institutions in Friesland (province, municipalities, water board) work together in the Frisian Program on the Wadden Sea Coast.

What major developments do you see in the field of water safety?

Martijn: What major developments do you see in the field of water safety?

Jan: An important point of attention is what water safety looks like in the long term. That in itself is not a new topic, but it remains a major challenge to translate how to take future scenarios into account today. The guiding principle is not to take measures that are too rigid, but to maintain sufficient flexibility to be able to anticipate what is required in the future. Both in a physical design sense and in a social sense. We really see dikes as part of the landscape. Here in Friesland we naturally have the “luxury” of space; our dikes are not encased in urban areas. At the same time, the dikes are squeezed between the Wadden Sea (Natura2000) and important agricultural areas.

In addition, circularity and sustainability are becoming increasingly important themes. Working with local areas is a good example of this. Local reuse of area soil, sludge, but also existing rock settlements makes a huge difference in logistics. And with that also in terms of costs and themes related to sustainability.

Koehool-Lauwersmeer, Waddenzeedijk: The dike will be reinforced over a length of 47 kilometers. Where possible, we combine dike improvement with improving the landscape and nature, together with the environment. Preparations for dike improvement have started.

Martijn: During the annual All-Risk excursion in 2019, we visited the Koehool – Lauwersmeer dike reinforcement. Can you tell something about the structure and state of affairs of this project?

Jan: The dike improvement between Koehool and Lauwersmeer is an enormous 47-kilometer stretch, which in turn consists of various reinforcement routes (link). After the introduction of new flooding standards in 2017, there were additional assessment initiatives that showed that the standards are not being met for the entire dike length. Reinforcement measures have been programmed in collaboration with the Flood Protection Program (HWBP). We work on assessing the dike routes and making additional safety analyzes if, in our opinion, the initial assessment is not accurate.

We also pay attention to the organisational, technical and financial side of possible reinforcement measures. In doing so, it responds to the Environmental and Planning Act, and the way in which participation is organized. We now work a lot with online meetings, but before we frequently met in local halls to discuss dike reinforcement plans. In collaboration with other government parties, the HWBP and local stakeholders we try to take steps to improve water safety step by step.

Martijn: During that All-Risk excursion, we saw that it was not just about water safety but also for example nature development. How do you try to bring these themes together?

Jan: Linking area functions is becoming increasingly important. In the advice of the Board of Government Advisers, the HWBP is called upon to follow the “smart and efficient” approach instead of the “sober and efficient” approach. With “smart” it is more clearly emphasised that connections with other sectors must be sought. In our region, this concerns, for example, cycling paths along dikes, projects related to Sense of Place, and larger developments such as improving the (ecological) water quality and nature (PAGW). But also other ideas that take shape among communities are relevant. Together we investigate how initiatives can be combined.

Main messages for policy makers, implementation parties and research bodies

Martijn: To close the interview, I am curious if you could give three main messages for different target groups active in water safety: policy makers, implementation parties and research bodies

Photo in the Waddenzeedijk during the All-Risk excursion in 2019 by Marleen van Rijswick.

To policy makers: the new standard has been developed and implemented under great time pressure. We encounter practical issues, especially during the assessment. Calculation models are not yet available or contain errors. This requires coordination and customisation to arrive at an accurate assessment on site.

To implementation parties: If you want to make the dike wider, there must also be ‘broader’ advantages for the implementation. Therefore, it is important to design together and use dike improvement as a vehicle to accelerate other initiatives. Cost considerations may not even be the most important thing (working together also takes time) but it is evident that you can work efficiently with them. In the field of innovations in progress, I see a lot in circularity.

To research bodies: We are now working on a broad area process linked to dike improvement. This is new for the project, for the water board, but also for the environment. Partly prompted by the Corona measures and ‘digital participation’, a nice research question is whether involvement is now sufficiently safeguarded and to which extent it contributes to developing a better solution. Finally, governance in general remains an interesting research topic. This is also reflected in the Environmental and Planning Act: what do we learn from a broad regional process? In addition, we try to place everything that cannot be linked to the dike under a provincial process (Frisian Program Wadden Coast). It remains crucial that governmental institutes formulate strategic directions and work together in a smart and efficient way with other projects and programmes in the region.

Last modified: 18/03/2021