How do you keep Zeeland and the Southwest Delta safe, climate-resistant, ecologically healthy, and economically prosperous as sea level rise accelerates after 2050? That is the central question in Delta Wealth.

A broad consortium led by HZ University of Applied Sciences is developing multiple plans for the delta in this research project, comparing them with others and analyzing their feasibility. These plans outline a future perspective to be prepared by 2050 for a faster rising sea level in the next 50 to 100 years.

Climate change has significant implications for the Southwest Delta. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that under high emission scenarios, the sea level by the end of this century could be over a meter higher than it is now, possibly even two meters if Antarctic ice caps melt faster. Can the delta remain open under such scenarios, and if so, for how long?

Transformation is inevitable

If we fail to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, substantial interventions in flood protection will be necessary. In the long term, a transformation of the water system in the Southwest Delta is unavoidable. Innovative solutions are needed to adapt the system and the underlying polder landscapes, making the area more robust and resilient. "With this research, we are looking far into the future," says Teun Terpstra, lector at HZ's Resilient Deltas research group. "If we anticipate a rise in sea levels of a meter or more, we need to take many interconnected measures."

Partners in Delta Wealth explore, within a learning community, the necessary measures and develop plans, comparing and evaluating them. The Southwest Delta program is closely involved. The collaboration is enthusiastic about Delta Wealth and incorporates the developed knowledge into the preferred strategy for the Southwest Delta, which will be re-evaluated in 2026. "We are faced with crucial choices due to the challenges of climate change. Research significantly contributes to determining the direction," says Paul de Beer, manager of the Southwest Delta program, and chair of the learning community.

Three design variants

Delta Wealth examines three future design variants: an open delta (as it is now), a closed delta (further closure), and a seaward delta (a new coastline in the sea). In each strategy, the starting point is a safe, healthy, and prosperous Southwest Delta. From here, partners seek a balance between flood protection, salinization, freshwater availability, and perspectives for a healthy ecology and prosperous economy. Each strategy is developed with societal partners, and public support is also assessed. The public can contribute their thoughts during meetings.

In addition to HZ, the consortium includes TU Delft, University of Utrecht, NIOZ, Wageningen University & Research, Deltares, Southwest Delta Area Consultation, and several governments, advisory firms, advocacy groups, designers, companies, and contractors. Delta Wealth receives a contribution of over 1.8 million euros from the NWO. Governments and the business sector together contribute two hundred thousand euros.