Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I finally finished my schoolwork on Sunday afternoon and was able to enjoy a walk around Delft. Delft is nice, if you go into the right picturesque places (it is not very picturesque on our block, for instance).

I have enjoyed learning about how the Dutch think about water management. Much of what you will read about Dutch engineering includes massive engineering feats. What is particularly interesting to learn is about Dutch regrets. Not that they may summarize the regrets of everyone, but of the Dutch we happened to be talking with.

Much of the Netherlands has a layer of peat soil, and, many many years ago before settlement, was wetlands. With settlement eventually came pumping of low areas in order to farm. The peat soil was oxidized (I would have to learn more before I could write that redox reaction, sorry), which causes a loss in peat, and the end result is that over the last 700 years, 3 meters or nearly 10 feet in reduction of land level in much of Western Netherlands. That is a lot!!! Anyway, when asked about regrets, the sentiment of some water managers we talked to is that altering the land as the people living in this country have done has resulted in major environmental consequences. Quick stat: 2% of Dutch waterways are currently considered 'natural' under the European Union definition of waterways.

That being said, the Netherlands is a small country. The United States is a large country. As a country, we have altered ecosystems in massive ways, too.

As both an environmentalist and an engineer, I often wonder if the two are mutually exclusive. I firmly believe they are not; otherwise I would not be an engineer. Also, they are completely different. Environmentalism is a view of the world; glasses through which you see, and engineering is a left-brain function; a way of looking at a problem and logically coming to a conclusion. So the question I ask is-- how do we integrate the two into something that can benefit both humans and the environment? Which is really the environment, since humans are a part of the environment.

The Dutch "Room for the River" program is very interesting. They have invested in ways in which to decrease the risks of river flooding, other than building higher levees. Some areas of agriculture have been bought by the government and returned to natural areas.

I was surprised to find that there are many species of birds here. They are really very beautiful to hear and see. I saw some when I walked for a bit outside the natural history museum we spent time at today, located in Biesbosch Nature Reserve.

I loved being out in the countryside here, and I can't wait to get back to it some weekend.


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