Over the last few decades, the Dender river has flooded several times. Integrated flood risk management is essential to manage the Province’s flood risk and climate adaptation is increasingly an essential part of decision-making processes as the province develops spatial and environmental policy. In order to decrease the risk of flood damage, the Flemish Government and the Province of East-Flanders are developing a flood risk management plan. However, this plan does not focus solely on classical protection measures (e.g. dikes, retention basins) but also investigates how flood risks can be mitigated through improved spatial planning and a new emergency response system.
The strategic plan ‘Room for Water: Dender Valley’ aims to reduce flood risk, increase resilience and guide future developments in the area. It also looks beyond risk reduction, promoting flexible actions that bring wider environmental and socioeconomic benefits. This is an integrated, cross-sectoral development strategy, reflecting the complex social, ecological and hydrological interdependencies within the Dender Valley. Watercourse managers alone cannot solve the flooding problem; it requires the involvement and active input of numerous stakeholders, including local authorities, civil society and citizens.
Given the spatial complexity of the flooding problem in the Dender Valley, three partners – The Flemish Inland Waterway Authority (De Vlaamse Waterweg nv), the Flemish Department of the Environment, and the Province of East Flanders – have joined forces and expertise to create and implement the plan. Through workshops, consultation with residents, design research and flood modelling, we explored the challenges, opportunities and possible building blocks that can be used to develop alternatives within an integrated approach. The process approach for creating the strategic plan is based on research-by-design, co-creation, openness, and consultation. We hope to manage reduce flood risk with maximum stakeholder support and wider societal, economic, and environmental benefits.
We invited our key organisations (public sector, private and civil society) in the region to join the existing Flemish Coordination Committee on Integrated Water Policy (CIW) consultation structures for the strategic plan. They have since received biannual reports of ongoing work from the Dender basin steering committee, and taken part in working sessions with the newly-formed ‘Room for Water’ working group.
We have also organised focus groups, with selected stakeholders examining specific themes, when required. We hope this will ensure each organisation has the opportunity to share their visions and concerns at each step in the process of creating and implementing the strategic plan.
For residents and visitors, we aim to increase awareness of existing flood risk in the Dender Valley and encourage people to actively participate in reducing this risk. To achieve these twin goals, we conducted two public information campaigns in 2020. To learn more about the development of the plan, our public awareness raising approaches to flood risk, and how we engaged citizens to build resilience, visit: ruimtevoorwater.be.