New director Annemieke Nijhof

With thirty years of experience in the field of water, soil and the subsurface, Annemieke Nijhof joined Deltares as our new managing director on 1 October 2020. For her, Deltares is where everything comes together. She aims to set the agenda and initiate dialogue in every area where substantiated knowledge about water in the subsurface can help to resolve the challenges facing society. Both here in the Netherlands and internationally. “We can strengthen our role as a strategic consultant to make the world a little better.”

“Our knowledge can make the difference”

Annemieke Nijhof

When Deltares was established in 2008, Annemieke Nijhof was working at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Collaboration between different institutes had been a topic of discussion for a number of years at that time. Annemieke Nijhof: “I can remember when four organisations merged to form Deltares. For me, it was a wonderful step forwards. It's important to look at questions from different angles but also in a coordinated way, as a system. That produces added value. So I'm proud, all these years later, to be leading this incredible organisation.”

Knowledge as the basis
Nijhof believes that society in the Netherlands, and the world as a whole, is facing major challenges. Climate change and biodiversity loss, for example, are transforming delta areas worldwide. It is important to take action now. Deltares is playing an important role here. “Knowledge is the basis for us. It allows us to set the agenda, initiate dialogue and put things into practice to benefit society as a whole. We have already been very successful in the Netherlands; internationally, we can still make progress. And our international work also contributes to a sustainable future in the Netherlands, if only because of the scale of our work in other countries. Take our involvement in the Delta Plan in Bangladesh, for example.”

“Drawing on its applied research on water and the subsurface, Deltares works with industry and research institutes on important mission-driven innovations. That generates opportunities for issues facing society such as the climate transition, and it makes the Netherlands more competitive at the same time.”

Focco Vijselaar - Director-General Business and Innovation, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate.

“Practical trials are great examples of what we can achieve with knowledge, both in theory and practice”

All this comes together nicely in the Noorderzijlvest Water Authority project in the Netherlands. Deltares set out the theoretical foundations for computer models and we also conducted experiments of our own in the Delta Flume. Nijhof: “The models showed that the dikes had to be raised by a substantial amount. So there was a lot of public concern. Practical trials were then organised, and they showed that the dikes were actually stronger than expected. Not only did that calm things down, it also saved money. I think that's a great example of what we can achieve with knowledge, both in theory and practice.”

“In the coming decades, the Netherlands will face a range of complex challenges, including those related to water. There is, for example, sea level rise in combination with the falling seabed in the North Sea. It is important for knowledge in areas like this to be shared between all stakeholders and to encourage research. Not only do we execute projects for Rijkswaterstaat, we are also an important partner in this domain.”

Michèle Blom - Rijkswaterstaat Director-General

Water and the subsurface as a recurring theme Water and the subsurface are a recurring theme in Annemieke Nijhof's career. After studying Chemical Engineering, she joined Tauw before moving on to positions at various ministries.

As the Director-General of Water, she was responsible for water policy in the Netherlands. She also led the Water & Maritime Top Sector and chaired the Netherlands Water Partnership. She joined Deltares as the managing director on 1 October 2020.

Dare to share
Nijhof believes that one thing is essential in all roles: dare to share. “Not keeping the knowledge for ourselves but sharing it as much as possible. It's only by working together with public and private parties that we can we accomplish our mission. That's how we can use our knowledge to change things for the better.” 

How does Nijhof see the transitions we need to make? “I have some difficulty with the word transition. It has an undertone of destruction: as if you're abandoning an old system. The energy transition is a transition of that kind, in which we have to replace fossil energy supplies. Fortunately, adaptation to climate change and a different approach to raw materials is often a gradual process. With our unique knowledge of the subsurface and water, we can contribute to sustainable energy from water and the subsurface. And that also applies to the transition to circular agriculture, where we are contributing our specific expertise in the domain of soil and the subsurface.”

“I've been working closely with Annemieke Nijhof for over fifteen years. We were both senior advisers to the Prime Minister's Office for a while. As dike reeves at the Brabantse Delta water authority, we worked together on climate-adaptive planning. Recently, here at Koninklijke NLingenieurs, we entered into a new memorandum of understanding with Deltares. I am very much looking forward to combining the knowledge of Deltares with our practical experience. We will find innovative solutions together.”

Carla Moonen - Chair of the Board of Koninklijke NLingenieurs

A pleasant surprise
Despite coronavirus, Nijhof quickly found her way around Deltares. She is impressed by what she saw in a short time. “I was really upset that I couldn't go to the office for literally one day. After that, I just got on with working from home: getting to know people, immersing myself in the projects and having good talks. The thing that really has been a pleasant surprise was the teamwork, both inside and outside the organisation. That's important, particularly during the crisis. The world is vulnerable; we can only resolve the challenges facing society by working together. I'm confident that, here at Deltares, we can make a substantial contribution, both nationally and internationally.”

“Climate change is faster than most people expected. It will have unintended consequences that require resilience and innovative thinking. Research is no longer an observer, but an actor in shaping the different pathways. We need solutions, new insights and knowledge on how to tackle this.”

John Bell - European Commission, Director of Healthy Planet