The Netherland’s Billion Dollar Sea Wall

April 10, 2016

[Image Source: Bert Knottenbeld][Image Source: Bert Knottenbeld]

The Netherlands are renowned for floods, which is no surprise since half of the country lies just one meter above sea level, and over an eighth lying below sea level. The Netherlands have an extensive flood history dating back hundreds of years with hundreds of thousand of deaths resulting from massive storm surges that decimate any land, houses, or people that get in the way. One of the worst surges occurred in Holland, in the year 1530 on November 5th when a massive storm created a surge that demolished the small storm surge barrier, swept away the dams, and ruined the dikes, killing upwards of 100,000 people.

How was it Fixed?

The problem is that much of the Netherlands sits below sea-level. Any major fluctuation in the sea depth will cause extensive flooding to a vast amount of land. The Dutch combat this issue by constructing dikes, effectively raising the height of the river ridges to allow greater variations in the river and sea depth (see pictures below). However, higher banks cause more water to accumulate, which slowly erodes the dikes or overflows during surges, releasing immense amounts of water over the edge- once again wreaking havoc on the Netherlands. The Dutch utilized massive windmills to pump water out of the channels, directing the water back into the ocean. These solutions lasted for many years, helping disperse surges and keeping mortality rates low. However the solution was not permanent.

[Image Source: Environmental History Resources][Image Source: Environmental History Resources]

[Image Source: Henri Cormont][Image source: Henri Cormont: Dike Wall]

A Modern Revolution

In 1953, a massive flood disintegrated all the dikes, dams, and sea walls, once again washing away everything that stood in its path. The floods resulted in 1,836 deaths, 200,000 animal casualties, and flooded 200,000 hectares of land. It was realized that a solution had to be found- and quickly. A comity was formed soon after which derived the Deltaplan, a plan to revitalize 3,700 km of dikes and dams (see picture below). One of the biggest features was an immense sea wall that would cost upwards of 2.5 billion dollars.

[Image Source: Deltawerken][Image Source: Deltawerken]

[Image Source Deltawerken][Image Source: Deltawerken: 1953 Floods]

The plan included a revolutionary designed dam which incorporated removable gates that were hollow and had the ability to float and be removed. The gates allowed fish to swim free keeping the environment relatively the same. However, when a storm surge comes in the gates can be quickly filled with water, sinking and holding them in place as a fortified dam protect millions of people from potential floods. Massive pillars span the water ways, each 30-40 meters tall, weighing upwards of 18,000 tons. The massive extension spanned three kilometers, or about two miles. With rising sea levels, the Dutch government has plans in place to protect the low laying lands from sea levels rises up to one meter by 2100.

[Image Source: Bert Knottenbeld][Image Source: Bert Knottenbeld]

[Image Source: Roberto Maldeno][Image Source: Roberto Maldeno]

The Dutch government has revolutionized sea water management for hundreds of years from the first implemented dike, to the massive windmill pumps, and then to the current immense dams that keep the sea at bay. The Dutch still suffer from floods, however with modern technology, the damage and death tolls have been kept to a minimum. As sea levels rise, the Dutch will continue to revolutionize water management, giving hope to all low lying regions of land across the world.

If you are curious to how the sea walls and dams look, check out this video

SEE ALSO: The Netherland’s Unique Water Bridge