Saturday, June 28, 2008

Holland and Florida team up …[The governments of Florida and the Netherlands] are about to become partners in a unique technology exchange that offers the promise of cost-effective management of water and land use challenges — a partnership that could become a model for international cooperation on climate-change issues designed to be replicated by the United Nations for application around the globe.

Though far apart in climate, language and distance, Florida and Holland have a great deal in common. Each has vast stretches of low-lying seashore vulnerable to Mother Nature. Each has huge populations living close to those vulnerable shores. Each worries about adequate freshwater resources to sustain its cities and farms. Each has erred in managing its water resources in the past — draining, dredging, damming and polluting as if water were a friend of limitless forgiveness.

….In April, a 16-member delegation of Florida engineers, attorneys, academics and private citizens attended a five-day water course at UNESCO IHE in Delft, a visit organized by the Florida Earth Foundation of West Palm Beach.

The five days were crammed with presentations by Dutch academics and engineers on the strategies and expertise the Dutch have developed for dealing with natural events that are every bit as catastrophic as Florida's hurricanes. The week also included field trips to some of Holland's most impressive hydraulic projects, including the massive Maeslant storm surge barrier on the Rhine downriver from Rotterdam and the equally mind-boggling Oosterschelde storm surge barrier to the south. The enormity of those public works projects — the Dutch claim the Maeslant barrier is the largest movable structure on Earth — had most of the Florida delegates shaking their heads in disbelief. From the country whose ingenuity and commitment put humans on the moon almost 40 years ago, that awestruck reaction is particularly relevant.

…. The new Dutch approach is called "Ruimte voor de Rivier" — Space for the Rivers. It's a 10-year, multinational program started in 2006 to enhance flood protection and environmental improvement of the Delta, initially budgeted at 2.1-billion euros ($3.4-billion). The name is descriptive of the effort. Instead of simply raising the dikes higher, as the Dutch have done for centuries as their country continues to sink below sea level, this plan focuses on giving the rivers more space to expand and thus to handle greater volumes of water in flooding periods….

The Maelsantkering storm barrier, photographed by Svdmolen at nl.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, under what appears to be a Creative Commons license

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