Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Dutch solution to floods: live with water, don't fight it

Tracy McVeigh in the Guardian (UK): Nol and Wil Hooijmaaijers have been watching the TV news from Britain with some horror. ...[T]he couple know what it is like to lose a home on a flood plain. .

Their old house and fields were sacrificed to a flood management scheme that forced them to sacrifice their farm for the sake of 150,000 strangers in the city of Den Bosch, some 30km upstream. Both in their sixties, they now live on a "mound dwelling", a man-made hillock with a flattened five-and-a-half acre top. There are eight dairy farms strung along the 6km dyke, like eight giant mud pies plunked down on the flat fields and linked by a raised road. All with the same large grey cattle sheds and newbuild houses in each plot.

All but one of the 17 farms that had been scattered across the land before the government's Room for the River agency arrived have been demolished. "That one goes in four weeks," said Nol, pointing to a tidy farm settlement behind mature trees.

The project on the Overdiepse Polder, eye-shaped farmland enclosed between the curves of two rivers, is one of 40 programmes due to be completed by next year by Room for the River. Set up in 2006, the agency was given a budget of €2.2bn (£1.8bn) to reduce the risk of Holland's four main rivers flooding. It has been busily lowering floodplains, widening rivers and side channels – basically giving the river space to cope with extra water – and moving 200 families, including the Hooijmaaijers, out of their homes. It's a project that the Irish government among others is interested in emulating and, after this winter, Britain may want to take note.

...The country's universities are producing some of the world's best water engineers and managers and it is exporting its expertise abroad; the Dutch government has advised on water governance projects in China, Africa and Australia.

The Netherlands has also learned from past mistakes – a 1977 report warning about the weakness of the river dykes was ignored because it involved demolishing houses. It took floods in 1993 and again in 1995, when more than 200,000 people had to be evacuated and hundreds of farm animals died, to put plans into action....

A polder in the Netherlands, shot by Gouwenaar, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 

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