Netherlands shares flood control expertise

March 6, 2013 at 12:04 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- The Netherlands says its experience and innovation in water management can help the United States and the rest of world better deal with flooding disasters.

Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen, on a visit to New York, Washington and the United Nations this week, told U.S. officials coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the Netherlands can help with the development of plans to mitigate increasingly frequent flooding disasters.

"Although different in scale, the landscapes of the Netherlands and New York have much in common," she said. "Both are river deltas with rivers, estuaries and basins. The Netherlands has a long history of water management.

"However, I don't just want to provide expertise, I also want to learn about the American approach," she added.

The Netherlands in 2015 is set to complete a $3 billion flood control program called Room for the River, in which rather than continually heightening its vast system of dikes along rivers to guard against more frequent and higher surges triggered by climate change, 39 spots have been designated to allow the waterways to expand naturally.

Those areas feature excavated flood plains, deepened river beds, new storage lakes, relocated dikes, high-water channels and other advanced water management techniques.

The government's aim with the effort is to enhance the "sustainability" and "livability" of the areas around the rivers -- breaking a centuries-old cycle of heightening dikes followed by even greater levels of damage when they are eventually breached.

Schultz van Haegen met Monday in Washington with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is chairman of U.S. President Barack Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Schultz van Haegen and Donovan they signed a memorandum of understanding laying out agreements on sharing knowledge and experiences in the field of water safety.

"Our two nations have much to learn from each other about finding innovative solutions to age-old shared problems," Donovan said. "The Dutch are no strangers to the forces of nature and I'm certain we can benefit from their experience in disaster mitigation, infrastructure management and a variety of approaches to sustainable community development and planning."

Under the U.S.-Netherlands memorandum, the countries would work on new community development strategies that place a premium on sustainability and livability principles, as well as explore the Dutch "building with nature" approach.

The two nations also promised to work together to "leverage private and philanthropic investments to maximize public investments in urban development and long-term disaster mitigation."

Also on Schultz van Haegen's agenda was a visit to New York and Hoboken, N.J., where Hurricane Sandy caused an estimate $50 billion in damage.

There, Dutch water management companies such as Royal HaskoningDHV, Fugro, Arcadis, Deltares, Dutch Water Design, Tygron and Palmbout Urban Landscapes were to share their expertise with U.S. counterparts.

She was also this week to attend the United Nations' Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters, where attendees are to gather to "raise awareness, share experiences and good practices and discuss ways forward towards global actions on water and disasters."

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