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The Clever Dutch and How They Manage Water

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Have you ever tried to build barriers to protect a sandcastle from waves on an ocean beach? At a much bigger scale, this is the same problem The Netherlands faces (The Netherlands is also sometimes called Holland and people that are from the Netherlands are called the Dutch).  Almost half the country is either below sea level or less than 3 feet above sea level.  The three largest cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) are all in these low-lying regions.

Building a sand castle in a flood prone area

Building a sand castle in a flood prone area

While in the Netherlands, we visited the Zuiderzee (pronounced zow-der zay) Museum, to see an exhibit about floods in Dutch history.  We were amazed at the number of serious floods the country has experienced. To protect their country from floods, the Dutch have built many dikes, barriers, and pumps.

List of serious floods in Dutch history at Zuiderzee Museum

List of serious floods in Dutch history at Zuiderzee Museum

Many Ways to Protect Against Floods:  The Clever Dutch

The Dutch are threatened by flooding from both the sea and from rivers.  To keep low-lying land free of water, they use dikes, which are walls that are built to keep water out.  Along with the dikes, they use continuously operating pumps.  If the pumps stopped, water would eventually seep back into low-lying land.

After a serious flood in 1916, they used one massive dike to close off part of the ocean.  The Zuiderzee, an inlet of the North Sea, caused many floods.  So the Dutch built a 20-mile (32km) long dike to close off part of it off.  When it was completed in 1932, it created the largest freshwater lake in Western Europe, called the Ijsselmeer.

Along the dike that holds in the Ijsselmeer

Along the dike that holds in the Ijsselmeer

Another strategy the Dutch use is called “room for water.” Sometimes, they have to let water take over some land, in order to protect the rest.  This could be water from the ocean or from rivers.  With rivers, they make “room for the river” by making sure rivers have plenty of bends — straight rivers can run too fast, eroding dikes quickly, with less time to react to floods.  They also create two dikes around key waterways, an inner dike for normal water levels and an outer dike in case water goes over the inner dike in a flood.

In addition, a key part of the Dutch’s strategy is a massive series of barriers that close off water channels if water levels rise too high:  we visited one, called the Maeslantkering (pronounced mahs-lahnt-caring).

The Maeslantkering

When you visit the Maeslantkering, the first thing that strikes you is its size:  it’s absolutely enormous.  It’s a set of huge curved doors that block off the ocean when sea level rises too high.  One arm that swivels the doors into place is as long as the Eiffel Tower lying on its side – and it weighs twice as much!

One arm of the Maeslantkering - Eiffel Tower on its side!

One arm of the Maeslantkering – Eiffel Tower on its side!

It weighs even more when it’s filled with water, which is how it works.  First the doors slide into place over the channel.  Then, water is pumped into the hollow frame, which then sinks the doors into the channel – making them extremely heavy and stable.

The Maeslantkering provides protection against sea level rise of up to 5 meters (16 feet).  The gates are only closed if sea level is expected to rise at least 3 meters (10 feet).  Except for an annual test, the gates have been closed only once since being completed in 1997.

In front of the Maeslantkering

In front of the Maeslantkering

The Maeslantkering is part of the Delta Project, a huge system of dikes and storm surge barriers created to protect the southwestern part of the Netherlands. The Delta Project was started following a major flood in 1953 that resulted in 1,836 deaths and a lot of property damage, and caused the Dutch to overhaul their water management.

How Could Climate Change Affect The Netherlands?

Two big challenges the Dutch face from the warmer temperatures created by climate change are rising sea level and stronger storms.

Rising sea level:  Warmer temperatures cause glaciers and ice sheets to melt, with the water eventually running into the oceans.  In all the glaciers and ice sheets of the world, there is enough water to raise sea levels about 75 meters (about 250 feet).  The majority of glaciers and ice sheets are located in Greenland and Antarctica.  To date, sea levels have risen about 8 inches, but forecasts are for it to rise between about 1 and 6 ½ feet by 2100.

Harriet glacier in Svalbard, Norway

Harriet glacier in Svalbard, Norway

Stronger storms:  Warmer air can hold more moisture.  Think about the bathroom mirror steaming up after a warm shower (try a cold shower – the mirror will be clear).  According to the 2012 Yale forum on Climate Change and the Media, the Earth’s air is about 4% more humid than it was 30 years ago.  This added water in the atmosphere provides more fuel for storms (there’s simply more water that can rain down).  Plus, storms often form over oceans.  Warmer oceans provide more fuel for storms then colder oceans.

So rising sea level will be something the Dutch watch closely over time, to make sure their barriers and systems provide adequate protection.

The water management expertise the Dutch have built up over the centuries will only become more and more valuable as rising sea levels and more floods affect communities around the world.  Already, the Dutch are sharing their expertise, working with officials in New York, Vietnam (Mekong Delta), Bangladesh and other places on water management plans.



Many thanks to Alexander Verbeek (Strategic Policy Advisor Global Issues, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands), who I connected with on Twitter several months ago, for his recommendations on places to visit in the Netherlands.  He also connected us with Dr. Raimond Hafkenscheid (Strategic Advisor for Water and Adaptation, Department of Climate, Energy, Environment and Water at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Netherlands).  Dr. Hafkenscheid graciously met with us and taught us about the Dutch approach to water management.  We also heard about an amazing event he recently organized:  kids building sandcastles.  Why were they building sandcastles?  Watch the video here to find out.


Study Guide Questions

1. What portion of the Netherlands is below sea level or within 3 feet of sea level?

2. Describe why the Dutch have been dealing with virtual sea level rise for a long time.

3. What are two challenges the Dutch face from climate change?






The post The Clever Dutch and How They Manage Water appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.

Video Trip Summary

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Here’s a 2 1/2 minute video we created for our home town school board and community.  It provides a good and quick summary of some of the interesting experiences we had on the first 2/3 of our trip.  We made it just after arriving in Africa in late March.

The post Video Trip Summary appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.

More rapids and a community

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The nature of the river has changed. The calm stretches between rapids are shorter and there are many more small rapids and riffles. Like Roosevelt we have noticed that the trees are getting larger as we descend the river. This was a very important fact for Roosevelt because very soon his men would have to search the forest for giant trees to carve into canoe to replace canoes that were lost in rapids. In fact today we will pass through the area where the things took a drastic turn for the Rondon Roosevelt Scientific Expedition. First we will encounter the rapids where Simplicio drowned. Then we will explore the place where the expedition lost two of their canoes and had to spend precious time and effort carving new ones.

Yesterday afternoon we spontaneously decided to stop at a farm house along the river to stretch our legs and practice our Portugese. No one was home so we walked up the road and noticed more houses. We had stumbled apon a small village, which even had a store. We treated ourselves to ice cold drinks and a bag of potato chips. It was getting late so we asked if we could camp on the soccer field. Then the math teacher and his wife invited us to stay at their house. We were treated to soft beds, a tasty dinner, and a chance to learn about life in small, isolated village. When the roads are good it takes 3 hours to get to the nearest town. Our hosts have chickens, fruit trees, and a large garden. However, they also go to town once or twice a month to shop. There is a bus that goes from the Cinta Larga community to town 3 times per week. It stops here and at farms along the way.
Today we plan to paddle to the next Cinta Larga community. It is the largest Cinta Larga community. We will end our canoe journey there. We hope to spend several days there learning more about the Cinta Larga. They are having a big celebration on Saturday. We hope that we can stay for the festivities, but we will have to ask the chief for permission.20140627060854

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Our first visit to a Cinta Larga community

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Last night we camped by the bridge near the Teneie Marques, a Cinta Larga community. Brazil was playing in the World Cup. We could hear cheers coming from the community. We think the whole village was watching the game together. Brazil won and just before dark two teachers and several children walked across the bridge to play soccer on the beach near our camp. I struck up a simple conversation with one of the teachers using my basic Portuguese. Soon all of the kids were admiring our canoe and watching us. We tried to pronounce a few Cinta Larga words and everyone laughed.

Kids playing soccer on the beach.

Kids playing soccer on the beach.


We asked if we could visit the school and the teachers said that we could, but that we would need to ask the Casica (chief) for permission. In the morning we learned that the Casica was not in the village, but we were able to talk to the second chief and she gave us permission to visit the school.


This morning we were a little nervous because we were not sure if we would be welcomed by the Cinta Larga. Our nervousness quickly disappeared after we entered the village and were met with smiles and generosity. We are very grateful that the Cinta Larga let us visit their community. We learned that there are about 3,500 Cinta Larga and they live in about 15 villages. The children learn to speak Cinta Larga at home when they are young. They learn Portuguese at school and they have a textbook that is in Portuguese and Cinta Larga.


The community nurses help us find other Cinta Larga communities on our maps.

The community nurses help us find other Cinta Larga communities on our maps.

We were able to spend several hours visiting with some of the teachers, nurses, as well as the Cinta Larga. Everyone has been very friendly and I think we have made a good impression.  We also visited with Oito-mina, who was one of the Cinta Larga guides on a rafting trip down the Rio Roosevelt about 20 years ago. He gave us two giant arrows that he made and we visited with him in his home for a long time. We saw several hunters going off into the jungle with bows and arrows that looked just like the ones that Oito-mina gave us.


This afternoon we said goodbye and paddled a few miles downstream to the next rapids. We are now camped at a beautiful spot in the middle of the rapids. Tomorrow we will continue downstream past several more rapids. We will look for signs of Roosevelt’s campsites and continue our journey in his footsteps.

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