December 4, 2022

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Water managers join the debate: 'We must not withdraw from rising sea levels'

Water managers join the debate: ‘We must not withdraw from rising sea levels’

Water managers are increasingly warning the Netherlands about the expected rise in sea level. Keep that in mind now, is the message. Delta Commissioner Peter Glass reminded Cabinet last year of the effects, such as rising water levels, more difficult rivers draining into the sea and salinization, which have consequences for the Netherlands’ lowlands, along floodplains and areas beyond embankments. “New investments in these areas may increase future claims and/or adjustment costs,” he wrote in an advisory report..

Scientists are moving too. “The Dutch water machine is going to stumble,” researcher Marjoleen Hasnott said in a statement. Norwegian Refugee Council With the publication of a report by the knowledge institute Deltares, if governments do not already take into account the measures that will be necessary in fifty or a hundred years, even the partial withdrawal of the Netherlands to the east. Explaining this, Hasnott says Dutch water management is “very good” in the East, but “anticipation” is necessary to “stay well”.


Hasnot: We have identified all possible trends against sea level rise. In any case, it seems that we need space to expand rivers, raise dams, and store water. We’ll have to reserve that space. And in all possible solutions, we will also have to reduce emissions from peatlands as much as possible in order to achieve climate goals.” The water boards also believe that space should be made “for water and for future dam improvements,” according to a spokesperson.

Some caveats raise astonishment, anxiety, and downright alarm in another school of water managers: they believe that the Netherlands should not prepare for scenarios in the distant future, but should instead rely on what the country has been good at for centuries: water is out the door. to keep. With the construction of dams and making way for river water, but also with the construction of waterworks and large pumps.

“We get scared,” says engineer Dick Botten, who advocates for a second coastline. “Let’s not talk about each other,” says Bas Junkmann, professor of hydraulic engineering at TU Delft. In his words, he is “stalked” with scenarios in which it is better for the Netherlands to abandon the West in the long run, and it should already begin to move to higher regions in the East. “We the Dutch build super-secure coastal systems all over the world, from Singapore to Texas and New York, and then have to pull back into our own country?” The controversy surrounding such scenarios damages the reputation of the Netherlands as a commercial location as well. “Even banks and insurance companies are needlessly afraid.”

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Water consultant Ties Rijcken calls suggestions to stop construction preferably in lower areas as illogical. Ricken: “Sea level rise is horrific. But the debate over it has doctrinal and sometimes religious aspects. Should we really preserve the vacant areas where nothing is allowed to happen anymore because we may need that space in decades or even centuries? No. With Eight million people and a small GDP, we once managed to build Afsluitdijk, then Delta Works. And then we won’t be able to maintain that system now?”

“Dreadful Countries”

There are different strategies, ranging from keeping the sea as far away as possible, to “moving along” and moving as far east as possible. This latter trend in particular has to suffer. It’s not a solution,” said Tess Riken. Withdrawal leads to “dreadful states” where homes become unsellable and only the wealthy can leave the decaying West.

Let’s not talk about each other

Bass Junkman Professor of Hydraulic Engineering at Delft University of Technology

Engineer Dick Putin sees withdrawal as a “fantastic idea” but nonetheless “doomed to fail”. Putin: “The social impact is incredibly large. Citizens, farmers and other landowners will have to be bought in large quantities, which will cost thousands of billions, which is not possible. Also in the East there will be a lot of opposition. “

“The call, which is regularly heard, not to build in the lowlands for the time being, or to construct government buildings in the higher parts of the Netherlands, is unwise,” says Professor Jonkmann: “I am missing evidence. Appeals for withdrawal and clearance are based on sea-level rise forecasts that We can only anticipate it centuries ago. We can handle sea level rise well right now. Houses have to be built with water hazards in mind.”

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Designed for a second surge barrier at the Nieuwe Waterweg in a closed state.
An illustration of Rijcken and Koen Meijman’s 2022 relationships.

According to scientific director Bas Collin of water consultancy HKV Lijn, “there is no need” to prepare the Netherlands for a possible retreat to higher ground. “This is premature. What matters is a balanced assessment of whether we are reducing the risk of death from flooding with the current water policy. The question is also whether the costs of the measures and the use of space are acceptable.”

It is believed that it is reasonable to consider housing sites to reduce exposure to flooding. “But without leaving the delta.” And one more thing: So far, flood risks vary from region to region. Jonkmann: It’s not as simple as the stakes being high in the reclaimed lands and low in the higher parts of the Netherlands. For example, the chance of wet feet in Limburgse Geul is much greater than in a deep Boulder in western Holland with good water management.”

Don’t sit on a mountain

In short, what water managers want to say is that there are a lot more ways to not get wet than by sitting on a mountain. This includes widening rivers, feeding sand off the coast, creating natural beaches and strengthening dams. For example, Professor Jonkmann mentions a dam near Kruiningen in Zeeland, which was raised by about five meters in seventy years and has become three times as wide. “In the coming centuries, an extra meter or two will have to be added to sea level rise. And we can’t?”

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As an alternative to dam improvements, which are relatively expensive, Ties Rijcken will soon present a plan for a second storm barrier at Nieuwe Waterweg near Rotterdam, behind the existing Maeslant barrier. It’s an arch 150 feet high that can be lowered in a storm, and is “cheaper than raising three hundred miles of levees behind.” “Let the sea come,” says Ricken. “We can handle it.” The Hollandkering building, as already christened, must be combined with additional pumping stations so that the river water can still be pumped out to sea when the barrier is closed.

Also read this interview:What can and should the Netherlands do in the event of sea level rise? We cannot go on like this. Prefer to build in higher areas’

An alternative to the pumps is the second Shoreline, Haakse Zeedijk, as called by engineer Dick Botten. A dam from ten to thirty kilometers of coast creates a giant lake, with space lacking in the rest of the Netherlands to store river water “for ten days”. Such a lake makes the Netherlands less dependent on pumps, says Putin, which is essential. “The pumps are powered by electricity, but the supply is not always certain.” Butijn makes the comparison with flat high. “As an upstairs resident, do you want to rely on an elevator? Or do you also want to have a staircase?” He sees his plan as the “ultimately possible alternative” against sea level rise.

That remained to be seen; There are also other points of view. Prof. Junkman: “Let’s make specific plans for the first bottlenecks. Such as strategies for the area around Rotterdam: a new storm barrier, a dam with locks or an open river with plenty of nature. Then evaluate these contributions to flood risk management, urban development, ports, the economy and nature .”