The Dutch are doing more than putting their fingers in the dikes; the prospect of global warming and a melting Greenland has convinced the government in the Netherlands to spend $1.3 billion per year over the next century on massive infrastructure projects. The reason is simple, as most readers know: One-quarter of this venerable European country lies below sea level.
The most pressing public works initiatives involve raising and enhancing the dikes and reinforcing storm barriers. But many other projects will be considered, including one that would move billions of tons of sand to extend the Dutch shoreline by a kilometer. These are just a few of many decisions the Dutch government will need to take over next few years, according to a recently commissioned government report.
In addition to remaking the Dutch infrastructure, the government plans to bring modern technology to bear. Dutch engineers are working with IBM to test a system of sensors that could eventually replace the army of volunteers that now fans out to inspect the dikes during storms. IBM is also creating a software system that collects and analyzes weather, rainfall and water-level data, so local governments and emergency responders will have the best information available when floods threaten and evacuation becomes necessary.
“We have the best system of flood protection in the world today, but we have to start preparing for the future,” says Cees Veerman, a former agriculture minister who headed a recent government commission on climate change mitigation. Veerman’s expert panel has told the government to prepare for a sea level rise of 4 feet over the next 90 years, and 13 feet by 2200. “Climate change and rising sea levels will affect our coastal defenses and our rivers… We must take action now to ensure that our citizens are safe in the centuries to come.”
As the risk of sounding like Dr. Doom, construction companies that specialize in flood protection will find no shortage of opportunities in the years ahead. I believe that many countries would be wise to follow the Dutch lead, in more ways than one. Not only are the Dutch acting early, but they have also pioneered most of the best engineering solutions for flood abatement.
Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland… are you listening?
The photo is from the North Sea Flood of 1953 which killed 1,835 in the Netherlands, and another 307 in the United Kingdom