Project: Living Deltas Living Polders

Project leaders: Frank van Laerhoven & Martijn van Staveren

Collaborators: Dr Van Kien Nguyen, Mekong Organics PTY LTD

Memorandum of Understanding between Utrecht University and Mekong Organics

To enable data collection and contribution to a comparative article on living polder strategies in deltas, Seed Money Project 2019, Utrecht University Pathways to Sustainability programme

Project background

The collection of data and the contribution to a comparative article on living polder strategies on deltas, is part of the ‘Living Deltas; Living Polders?’ project. Project leaders of this project are Frank van Laerhoven of Universiteit Utrecht, Faculty of Geosciences, and Martijn van Staveren. This project described in this ToR is financed by: Water, Climate & Future Deltas: Seed-money Call 2019 (Utrecht University).

Purpose and background of the research

Key motivation to set up this project is the apparent global interest in hybrid polder management strategies and (temporary) restoration of flood dynamics on delta lands, summarized here as ‘living polder strategies’. Whereas full flood protection was the dominant approach to dealing with high water in deltas, several cases of temporary and permanent de-poldering and embankment removal have been observed in various deltas of the world. This concerns e.g. the removal or relocation of levees and some upstream dams, notably in the US, but we focus here on riverine and coastal deltas, where restored flooding projects have materialized in polders (or similar landscapes). Such projects are often presented as contributing to more sustainable deltas, as they contribute to flood safety by spreading flood water, with the spreading of nutrients and sediment (land accretion) and nature restoration.

The extent to which these potentials can be achieved will depend on understanding both physical and institutional conditions. This project aims to improve such understanding.

Different local living polder strategies emphasize different (sets of) benefits. We have therefore targeted 4 cases that differ in their rationale for employing such strategies. The project intends to gather knowledge and insights regarding the topic of flood dynamic restoration on delta lands, based on the following 4 case studies:

CasePrimary objectiveSecondary objectiveLead
Bangladesh’s Tidal River Management (applied in several ‘beels’, or polders, in the southwest part of the delta);Solving siltation and subsequent drainage problemsLand accretion to counter sea-level rise and land subsidenceSara Nowreen, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology
The Netherlands de-poldering of the Noordwaard polder;The improvement of flood safety by spreading flood waterRestoration of wetland habitats to improve biodiversity and other eco-system servicesMartijn van Staveren/Frank van Laerhoven, WUR/UU
Vietnam’s Mekong delta on overland flow restoration in An Giang province;The deposition of nutritious sediments to improve soil fertility and subsequently, yieldsSpreading out flood water to prevent flooding in downstream urban areasNguyen Van Kien, Mekong Organics PTY LTD and affiliated researcher An Giang University
In the United States on flooding of some polders (locally called ‘islands’) in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.Restoration of natural habitat, preservation of wildlifeCombat land subsidenceJay Lund, University of California – Davis

Milestones (updated)

  1. Research activities to be carried out, until December 2020 (completed)
  2. Each partner submits research report, January 2021 (completed)
  3. Participate in an international symposium, May 2021 (completed)
  4. Contribute to draft article including translated summary, between June and November 2021
  5. Contribute to setting up a Community of Practice, between June and November 2021

Ethics and risks

The research adheres to The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity 2018. The Code sets out the principles that should be observed by each individual concerned, which are honesty, scrupulousness, transparency, independence and responsibility.