Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for July, 2007

Why no floods here

Posted by butalidnl on 26 July 2007

The flooding in Britain is in the news everyday, and it might occur to some to ask why it does not flood also in the Netherlands. After all, the Netherlands is a very low country, with large areas lower than the water level; and the same rain clouds that pass through Britain hit this country a day later.

It is true that the Netherlands has had a lot of rains these last few weeks, but we don’t have any floods here (so far). Ironically, it is precisely the fact that this country is vulnerable to floods that they haven’t occured. Everywhere in the country, there are pumps that continually get rid of water from low-lying places. During the past weeks with a lot of rain, these pumps were extra active preventing water from accumulating. This country is also rather small, and the places which are lower than the sea-level are always quite near the sea. This means that there is always a place to pump the extra water to.  This is unlike Britain, which has low-lying areas far from the sea.

The water management system here is good enough to prevent flooding caused by rain falling on the Netherlands itself. But we still suffer from floods from time to time. And this usually happens when the Rhine (from Switzerland and Germany) or the Meuse (from France and Belgium) get bloated with water from those countries. This happens, for example, when the winter snow in Switzerland melts, or when heavy rains cause floods in Germany or France.  That causes our rivers here to rise, and to use the whole of their “winter bed”.  Here, there are two sets of dikes – one which is only a couple of meters high and which protects grazing land, and the other which is much higher and stronger to protect houses and farmland. The winter bed is only for grazing land, because it gets flooded regularly during winter. But these floods don’t inconvenience people too much, and almost never make the news.

Sometimes the rivers do rise quite high, and this makes the news. But fortunately, there are so many things that the authorities can do to lessen this problem. For example, they can open gates to divert water from one river to another. Also, they have the option of flooding  so-called “green rivers”, which are reserve patches of land where extra water can be diverted to in times of extremely high run-off.  And local water authorities have arrangements for selective flooding of certain areas to prevent more valuable land from getting flooded.

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