Netherland’s flood management is a climate adaption model for the world

Source(s): Climate Adaptation Platform

More than 50 per cent of the Netherlands is below sea level, encouraging the Dutch to look for innovative water management solutions.

Protective dikes along the coastline and many Dutch rivers represent the proactive and preventive measures that the country is putting against the consistent threats of flooding.

Climate change, however, will further increase flooding threats due to rising sea levels, increasing frequency of heavy rains, and storm events.

The flood management and protection strategies that worked for Netherlands would need to be amplified to address climate change effects.

The article on TriplePundit shows how the Netherlands prepares to cope with the increasing threats of climate change through the Valuing Water Initiative.

The Dutch prime minister launched the project in 2019, implementing the UN’s Valuing Water Principles.

According to the article, “Valuing Water Initiative – Better Decisions Impacting Water,” the principles were formulated to implement Sustainable Development Goal 6, ensuring the availability of sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. 

The idea behind the program was to create a common ground starting point for governments, non-profits, and businesses in solving water problems.

The Valuing Water Initiative has the following five water principles:

  • recognising the multiple values of water,
  • reconciling disparate values,
  • protect all sources of water,
  • raise public awareness of water to enable more inclusive participation, and
  • ensure investment to harness innovation.

The city of Dordrecht had experienced the most catastrophic floods in history due to its low elevation and location at the intersection between the sea and three major rivers.

The city’s flooding history, particularly the major storm in 1421 that destroyed several dikes and submerged 23 villages in the city, and its continued vulnerability to flooding have made it the flagship for Netherlands’ Valuing Water Initiative.

The project focuses on how to change the view of flooding as part of sustainable urban design ( Zerrenner, 2021).

Due to the increased flooding threats from climate change, city planners recognised that it would need a multi-layer approach for flood management that includes prevention and preparation strategies.

Prevention is essential for adaptation to succeed. As part of the city’s prevention strategy, it should not grant building permits in its high flood-prone areas and develop policies to prevent rebuilding in flood-prone areas to repeat flooding devastations.

Preparation, the final layer of the Valuing Water Initiative, entails having a plan on what to do when flooding occurs, among others, the city is developing an evacuation plan to move people to higher ground.

De Starrt district sits at a higher elevation than the rest of the city, which makes an ideal evacuation site. The city plan to build sustainable housing, flexible spaces, and a public transportation system to help evacuate people, especially the vulnerable members of the community. The city is also a model coastal city for climate adaptation.  

Coastal flooding can be a catastrophic and costly event, as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which resembles the post-Katrina flooding. But even as coastal cities are starting to prepare for coastal flooding, which is projected to get more severe with climate change, flood protection methods have already been long established in Dordt (Guriro, 2016).

In 2016, Netherland hosted the Adaptation Future 2016 to showcase its climate adaptation works. Among the 13 sites selected in the country to tour delegates, Dordt hosted the ‘Dordrecht flood management walking tour’, a city tour to see what the city built to manage the water surrounding it throughout the century. The city has built dikes by raising embankments to protect the resident’s houses. Authorities also introduced stop logs on the doorway and streets to keep the water out, which is regularly checked to ensure that it works well, especially during floods (Guriro, 2016).

The Delta Program is the Netherland’s approach to flood risk management, an elaborate system of dams, sluice gates, storm surge barriers, dikes, and other protective measures. The program also brings together experts on water management, civil society, and authorities from all levels of government (5 facts, 2016).

As part of the implementation of the Delta Program, the ‘wide green dike’ was reintroduced as a nature-based solution against flooding.  The use of the ‘wide green dike’ allows the alignment of flood protection, climate adaptation goals with nature conservation objectives, and collaboration with experts and stakeholders, making this solution crucial.  

Jantsje and Vellinga (2019) examined the steps to reintroduce the ‘wide green dike’ in the Netherlands. According to their study, the ‘wide green dike’ is a historical design that only uses natural materials, such as clay covered with grass, and has a mildly sloping seaward face that merges smoothly into the adjacent salt marsh.

The study explains further:

Under normal conditions, incoming waves are damped by the salt-marsh foreland. When the salt marsh is submerged due to high water levels, waves reach the dike only during storm conditions. Because of the wave-damping capacity of the salt-marsh foreland and the gentle seaward slope (which reduces wave impact), the grass-covered clay layer is sufficient to protect the dike against erosion during extreme events. In contrast, traditional barriers that have been built in the last hundred years in the Netherlands have a steeper seaward slope covered by asphalt, concrete or stones to resist the design wave loads.

The researchers aim to identify the barriers and drivers in applying this nature-based solution to flooding so other delta regions facing the same problems as the Netherlands could replicate its use.

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