Being a country with such close proximity to water, as well as 20% of the country being below sea level, gives rise to concerns especially if there are chances of floods. With the planet undergoing massive changes due to global warming, floods have become a serious threat to the economy and future of many Dutch cities which are situated on the edge where land meets the sea.
The Dutch coastline has many levels of storm barriers and other construction projects to protect the coastline from the threat of flooding. These works include constructing dikes, locks, sluices, levees and storm surge barriers.
The Dutch realized that certain measures had to be taken as the estuaries of the Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse rivers were subject to flooding over the centuries. As the tides slowly eroded away the coastline, the first barriers also eroded, which meant that the dikes had to be constantly raised. This was turning into an expensive and impractical affair, and they decided to shorten the coastline which meant that fewer dikes would have to be reinforced.
Although these plans were made early in the 20th Century, WW2 put the plans on the back burner. The 1953 flood caused unmitigated disaster on a massive level where over 2000 people lost their lives and many cities were devastated after storms caused the water level to rise to a height of 4.2 meters. This increased the determination to get the barriers up and the Delta plan was developed. This entailed that the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, Haringvliet and the Grecelingen to be blocked. This also meant that the coastline would be shortened by 700 kms.
The Delta Works
The Delta Works project has ensured that the chances of flooding are reduced to once every 4,000 years as opposed to more frequent chances which they faced earlier. The acceptable risk was set to once every 4,000 years after the initial acceptable risk level for once every 125,000 years was found to be too expensive. The dams are considered by many to be the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and are amongst the best and largest storm barriers worldwide. The construction of all the dams and the entire project was finally completed in 2010.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared the Delta Works to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The structures of this project are scattered over Zeeland and South Holland. If you want to see the structures for yourself and know more about them, you can stay overnight and hire a car the next day to drive out to the structures. It is easier to travel to the Delta Works by car, but winter brings limited services.
The more impressive storm barriers are:
- Oosterscheldekering: This is one of the most spectacular storm barriers in the area. The process of starting the damming of the area caused artificial islands to be created and 5 kms out of the projected 9 kms was banned with the remaining 4 kms to be an open surge barriers that would close only when required.
- Deltapark Neeltje Jans: This is the most common point of entry into the Delta Works and this is the first choice for many visitors if they are curious about the storm barrier project. Here, the visitor is treated to knowledge about the whole Delta Works project, with the opportunity to see one of the barriers from inside, apart from giving an overview of Netherland’s water works. There is a theme park and an aquarium to entertain the family.
- Expo Haringvliet: You could grab a drink while enjoying the view and also watch a movie about the 1953 flood.
- Maeslantkering: This is one of the largest moving structures in the world. You can go to the free visitor’s center where you can learn about the history of this storm barrier as well as have the choice of going for a guided tour for the price of 4 Euros.