Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Delta Works

Author: Wendy Mussoline

This week we joined a team of water managers for the State of Florida to visit various sites that represent the infrastructure necessary to keep Holland dry. The team consisted of environmental professionals representing the South Florida Water Management District, US Army Corps of Engineers, private law firms and consulting firms, and the Florida Earth Foundation. The goal of the Florida-Holland connection is to create a unique collaboration between the State of Florida and the Netherlands that will identify and prioritize climate-driven water challenges that are common to both areas and develop solutions together. The program was initiated in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The focus of our site visits over the last couple days involved “The Delta Works”, which are a number of constructions that were built between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect the land from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks,
dikes, and storm surge barriers. Although floods have reoccurred in the Netherlands since the earliest record of 838 AD and approximately every 50 to 100 years thereafter, the construction of the Delta Works was PRIMARILY motivated by the flood of 1953. A horrendous storm caused the North Sea to surge over 15 feet above sea level and there were nearly 2,000 victims in Holland. The flood occurred in the night and thus no warning was given. The Delta Works project is one of the most extensive engineering projects in the world with over 10,250 miles of dikes and 300 structures.

The first structure we visited was the Maeslantkering in Rotterdam – the largest moving structure on earth. After six years of construction, 450 million euros and using the largest ball joint ever built (10m in diameter), the storm surge barrier was completed in 1997. It is basically a gate located in the main waterway of the port that opens and closes based on the height of the North Sea. It closes when the sea is predicted to rise 3 meters above sea level, which is predicted to occur about every 10 years. The structure was massive and it really is difficult to explain or capture in a picture.

Today, we visited the most extensive storm surge barrier known as the Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt)'s basically a series of giant pillars that connect a flood gate that remains open unless the sea level rises to 3 meters above sea level. It extends approximately 8 km across a deep channel (40 m deep)....the reason they choose the keep the dam open was to preserve the large estuary that exists behind the dam. Other projects we visited were areas along the coastline that were in the process of being renourished (adding more sand to the dunes and reinforcing dikes with huge mounds of asphalt).
The main impression that I took away from these visits is that the Dutch are DETERMINED to keep out the sea! Their Delta projects are designed to withstand a 1 in 4000 yr storm. This project is a priority for them to preserve their land and livelihood. Climate change is at the forefront of their minds and they are acting NOW for the FUTURE...The $$$ figures are enormous...hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars...the magnitude is beyond my comprehension. But in speaking with the representatives from the local water boards, the people trust that their government will protect them...thus, they are willing to pay the taxes for such projects. I respect the dedication and determination of this people to remain focused on this task until it is completed. I hope that the group from Florida (which also had several delegates that are currenly working on the storm surge barriers for Louisiana) will integrate these perspectives into their roles as water managers in the States.

The Dutch hospitality was overwhelming...every tour guide that we encountered was so eager to share their knowledge and experiences with us. They hosted us graciously and fed us plentifully! It has been such a wonderful experience to join the group this week and tour these remarkable projects in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the tides are not only controlled by the moon and the sun, but by man as well!

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