Drought effect: Flemish inland transport undermined; farmers struggle

The groundwater in Flanders has dropped drastically and levels are already "low to very low" at 79 percent of the measuring points, informs the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM). At 18 percent of the measuring points, the numbers mean a historically low average flow.

The management level is maintained at level 2 (code orange) and ​ measures are coordinated by the Drought Committee at the Integral Water Policy (Integraalwaterbeleid), a consultation platform of Flemish government policy domains.

The Drought Committee informs there is enough drinking water for the moment.

"The drinking water supply is still guaranteed. More than ever, it remains necessary to be careful with drinking water. Don't waste it and use it wisely," they announce.

Recreation in various waterways have been forbidden due to blue-green algae blooms. Shipping and agriculture are suffering the consequences of the drought.

Transport challenges

The persistent drought have consequences for shipping in North Sea Port. The drought means that there is less water in the Ghent Terneuzen Canal. On the one hand because less water can be supplied from the interior of Belgium, on the other hand because there is too little rainfall. Therefore, ships are currently allowed to lie a maximum of 12.35 meters in the water in order to guarantee safe navigation. 

Ships entering the channel from the Western Scheldt have to lighten additional goods up to a maximum draft of 12.35 metres. Ships that want to leave the port from Ghent and Terneuzen are also forced to load less goods.

To prevent water from flowing from the Canal into the Western Scheldt, the locks in Terneuzen open less. The locks remain closed from two hours before and two hours after low water to limit the amount of lock water. In one day, therefore, no ships can enter or leave via the lock complex in Terneuzen for 8 hours. This results in longer waiting times for seagoing vessels, inland vessels and tugs.

North Sea Port is estimating the consequences for shipping and to make agreements. The Dutch Rijkswaterstaat and the Flemish Waterway are responsible for the water management of the Terneuzen-Ghent Canal.

The Flemish Waterway (Vlaamse Waterweg) is also taking measures against the drought in Genk. It has installed a mobile pump installation at the lock of the Albert Canal to reuse the water used by shipping and expects the pumping station in Genk to come into operation next week, as the drought continues. Meanwhile, the water level of the Meuse is very low.

Dutch neighbours concerned about harvest

August is still an important month for potatoes, onions and sugar beet to continue growing, before harvesting that is usually done in October. But farmers, especially in Zeeland, in the Netherlands, warn they urgently need rain in the coming weeks.

"The yield of onions will be halved if it remains dry for the next two weeks", says the Zeeland arable farmer, water expert and board member Hendrik Jan ten Cate of farmers' organization ZLTO. 

A disappointing harvest could lead to significantly higher prices in the supermarket as early as this autumn, the organization warns.



(BELGA PHOTO HANDOUT) Biggest ship that ever passed trough the lock of the canal Gent - Terneuzen, on Thursday 20 November 2008

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