Delta Works flood protection infrastructure
Our day was spent traveling to Deltapark Neeltje Jans to learn about the Delta Works projects. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is both a theme park and a Delta Works educational center. Throughout the Netherlands’ history, they have benefited from being in close proximity to the sea, but the sea has also been a great source of danger. Since a large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the country has had to create innovative systems to protect from flooding. The Delta Works are the largest flood protection system in the world and include storm surge barrier, dikes, dams and sluice gates.
After we arrived, we explored the Delta Experience. The Delta Experience is a lively visual that took us back to the night of January 31,1953 where we witnessed the devastation that occurred during the North Sea Flood of 1953. During this flood, seawater breached the dikes destroying homes, roads, telephone lines, and sweeping away many people and livestock. This visual gave us a glimpse at what that night was like for those affected as well as educating us about how the Dutch responded.
After the Delta Experience, our group watched a brief film that provided further information about the systems the Netherlands implemented to protect from flooding. In response to the traumatic flood of 1953, the government initiated the Delta projects to provide security from the water. We learned that they began construction with smaller dams first in order to get a better understanding of the building process and to gain the experience to construct the larger projects. Some of the techniques used during construction were borrowed from the military such as the use of caissons, which had been used for quick formation of artificial harbors. They also created new techniques such as using mats to protect the seafloor from being eroded.
The location we were visiting was the Easter Scheldt, and it was considered to be a complex area of the Delta Works projects due to the large amount of water flowing in and out with the tide. Because this area is an estuary, it provides habitat and resources for numerous species. Debate began over whether or not the Eastern Scheldt would be sealed off or remain tidal, but they finally decided on a storm surge barrier that would allow water to flow in and out. I thought this was very interesting because the health of the environment was considered during this project, and many times decisions are made without thinking about how it could cause adverse effects in other areas.
One of the most exciting parts of our day was actually getting to visit the storm surge barrier. I had seen images of the barrier, but it was impressive to see in person. The storm surge barrier was completed in 1986. The barrier closes whenever sea level are predicted to be 3 meters or higher. Water level forecasts are determined from a constant supply of data coming from weather and water monitoring systems on land and out at sea. This data is then used in computer simulations to predict tide levels 10 hours in advance. Decision makers can make the call to close the gates when they receive these predictions, but the gates are also capable of closing by themselves incase of an emergency. They had a museum in the interior of the storm surge barrier that provided us with information as we moved through the facility.
This was the second piece of large-scale flood protection infrastructure that we had visited on our trip in the Netherlands; several days before, our group visited the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. They have taken aggressive steps to combat flooding and have done so in a proactive way, which is important because this issue will only continue to worsen as sea level continues to rise. This is very important as the rest of the world turns to the Netherlands to learn how to implement water management infrastructure. The United States has already felt the affects of climate change with storms like Hurricane Sandy or with urban flooding in Miami. As the climate continues to warm, sea level will rise and storms will become more unpredictable and cities need to be prepared to manage the water that will accompany.