The Netherlands – a brief history
The Dutch are well known for their water management skills. Water is in their genes. The Dutch windmills (once used to pump out excess water) , dikes and levees form a powerful international image. From the early middle ages onwards, we have reclaimed and defended land from the sea. A skill that goes hand in hand with water management, spatial planning, water supply and water quality. A history that revolves around adaptation to water
First man-made dike
The oldest dike in The Netherlands that we know of is about 2000 years old and situated near the village Peins in Friesland. It was built by monks and made of piled turf.
In the North of Holland different villages combined their dikes. They succeeded in creating one big living area that was embanked by the Westfriese Omringdijk. A real piece of water art of about 120 kilometers long and a couple of meters high. The Westfriese Omringdijk can still be seen nowadays and it takes you up to five days to walk the entire route. More information about this manmade miracle and tourist attractions along the route can be found on www.westfrieseomringdijk.nl
First All Saints' Flood
A series of devastating storm surges, more or less starting with the First All Saints' flood (Dutch: Allerheiligenvloed) in 1170 washed away a large area of peat marshes, enlarging the Wadden Sea and connecting the previously existing lake Almere in the middle of the country to the North Sea, thereby creating the Zuiderzee.
First Official regional water authority
The first official regional water authority in The Netherlands was founded in 1255 by Count Willem II of Holland and named the 'Hoomheemraadschap van Rijnland'. Nowadays The Netherlands counts 23 regional water authorities. Regional water authorities (Dutch: waterschappen or hoogheemraadschappen) are regional government bodies charged with managing water barriers, waterways, water levels, water quality and sewage treatment in their respective regions. These regional water authorities are among the oldest forms of local government in the Netherlands, some of them having been founded in the 13th century.
More information: Dutch Water Authorities
Wind mills pump out the water
Around 1400 water still is a big problem for the fast growing and developing country of Holland. A big part of the land sunk so deep that it is situated below sea and river levels ever since. One of the biggest inventions of that time is the use of wind mills for an other purpose than grinding wheat and grain. Wind mills were used to pump the water out of the sunken polders over the dike into the rivers that were situated higher than the land. Over a hundred years later wind mills were placed all over the country. It was this invention that made it possible to keep living below sea level and still have dry feet.
St. Elizabeth's flood
On the 19th of November 1404, large areas of Flanders, Zeeland, and Holland, were flooded. The storm tide responsible became known as the First Saint Elizabeth’s flood. The damage was catastrophic. The area of Zeeland-Flanders had already been flooded 20 years earlier, in 1375. Through this, the Zuudzee was created. Around the Zuudzee, polders were diked, and within these polders, new parishes arose. Unfortunately, in 1404, everything was destroyed again. This time, a complete spit that was home to a number of small towns such as Ijzendijke and Hugevliet, which were spared in 1375, was engulfed during the flood.
St. Elizabeth's Flood
A flood that occured on the same day as the first St. Elizabeth's Flood in 1404. It ranks 10th in the list of top ten (10) worst floods in history. During the night of November 18 to November 19, 1421 a heavy storm near the North Sea coast caused the dikes to break in a number of places and the lower lying polder land was flooded. 72 number of villages were swallowed by the flood and were lost, causing between 2,000 and 10,000 casualties. The dike breaks and floods caused widespread devastation in Zeeland and Holland.
More information on floods in the Netherlands:
Pannerdens Kanaal splits river Rhine in two
The Pannerdens Kanaal (Pannerden Canal) is a canal in the Netherlands that was dredged between 1701 and 1709 to cut off a large, shallow bend of river Rhine and so improve river traffic and water regulation.
The canal, now indistinguishable from a "real" river, forks off north from river Waal a few kilometres past the point where the Bijlands Kanaal, a similar canal dug to cut off a Waal bend, ends. It flows past the towns of Pannerden (right bank), which gives the canal its name, and Angeren (left bank) and so north to the point where the old Rhine bend flows into it and the river continues to the sea as Nederrijn (Lower Rhine). The old Rhine bend, cut off at its upstream end, still exists and is called, unsurprisingly, Oude Rijn (Old Rhine). (Source: Wikipedia)
Rijkswaterstaat, founded in 1798 as the 'Bureau voor den Waterstaat', is part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Its role is the practical execution of the public works and water management, including the construction and maintenance of waterways and roads, and -importantly- flood protection and prevention. The agency was also involved in the construction of big railway projects such as the Betuweroute and the HSL-Zuid.
The mission of the organisation is: "Rijkswaterstaat is the national agency that provides dry feet, clean and sufficient water and a quick and safe flow of traffic". The agency is divided in 10 regional, 6 specialist services and 2 special services.
More information: www.rijkswaterstaat.nl
King Willem I of Orange was the first to reclaim land with the use of steam power. Near Gouda the Zuidplaspolder was reclaimed.
The Zuidplaspolder is a polder in the western Netherlands, located northeast of Rotterdam. It reaches a depth of 7.0 metres (23.0 ft) under the mean sea level. This makes it, along with Lammefjord in Denmark, the lowest point of Western Europe and the European Union.
Around 1850 the first water supply system was constructed. In the dunes a canal was dug that led clean dune water to a big pool. A steam engine pumped the water through a system of pipes to the city of Amsterdam. After this other parts of the Netherlands were connected to the water supply system. It was not until in the twentieth century that all Dutch households got connected to the water supply system.
In 1643, Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater proposed to endike and drain the lake. Similar schemes, among which those of Nicolaus Samuel Cruquius in 1742 and of Baron van Lijnden van Hemmen in 1820 are worthy of special mention, were brought forward from time to time. But it was not until a furious hurricane in November 1836 drove the waters as far as the gates of Amsterdam, and another on Christmas Day sent them in the opposite direction to submerge the streets of Leiden, that the mind of the nation was seriously turned to the matter.
On August 1, 1837, King William I appointed a royal commission of inquiry; the scheme proposed by the commission received the sanction of the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber in March 1839, and in the following May the work was begun.
First, a canal was dug around the lake, fittingly called Ringvaart (Ring Canal), to carry the water drainage and boat and ship traffic which had previously gone across the lake. This canal was 61 kilometres (38 mi) long, and 2.40 metres (7.9 ft) deep, and the excavated earth was used to build a dike from 30 to 50 metres (98 to 160 ft) wide around the lake. The area enclosed by the canal was more than 180 square kilometres (69 sq mi), and the average depth of the lake 4 metres (13 ft). As the water had no natural drainage, it was calculated that probably 1000 million tons would have to be raised by mechanical means.
All of the pumping was done by steam mills, an innovation contrasting with the historic practice of draining polders using windmills. Three Cornish beam engines were imported from Hayle: the Leeghwater, the Cruquius (the largest Watt-design reciprocal stroke steam engine ever built and now a museum), and the Lijnden. Pumping began in 1848, and the lake was dry by July 1, 1852; 800 million tons were actually discharged. (Source: Wikipedia)
First sewage system
The first big city that started with the construction of a closed sewage system with a length of more than 22.000 kilometers was London. This gigantic project started in 1859.
In the Netherlands it was not until around 1900 that was started with the installing of kilometers of sewage system. Around 1935 a lot of people in the Netherlands still used so called ‘shit buckets’ that were collected by the ‘tonnenboer’ or emptied in holes in or next to the house, in sewage canals or in a river.
At this moment you can find a sewage system with a length of 100.000 kilometers in the Netherlands. This is enough to go around the earth twice!
Photo credits: Niestadt-fotocollectie, Zijper Museum, Schagerbrug
The Zuiderzee Works
The concept of making the Zuiderzee docile originated in the seventeenth century, but the ambitious solutions suggested were impractical given the technology then available. On January 13 and 14, 1916 the dikes at several places along the Zuiderzee broke under the stress of a winter storm, and the land behind them flooded, as had often happened in previous centuries. This flooding, however, provided the decisive impetus to implement the existing plans to tame the Zuiderzee. Due to the flooding and a continuously threatening food shortage during World War I, support for the project grew.
On June 14, 1918 the Zuiderzee Act was passed and the mammoth undertaking began. The goals of the Act were threefold:
- Protecting central Netherlands from the effects of the North Sea
- Increasing the Dutch food supply with new agricultural land
- Improving water management by creating a lake from the former uncontrolled salt water inlet
The Zuiderzee Works (Dutch: Zuiderzeewerken) are a manmade system of dams, land reclamation and water drainage works, the largest hydraulic engineering project undertaken by the Netherlands during the twentieth century. The project involved the damming of the Zuiderzee, a large, shallow inlet of the North Sea, and the reclamation of land in the newly enclosed water using polders. Its main purposes are to improve flood protection and create additional land for agriculture. Together with the Delta Works, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the works among the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. (Source: Wikipedia)
Purification drinking water
At the end of the nineteenth century the treatment of drinking water was strongly improved by the introduction of fast and slow sand filters and the first implementation of chlorine and ozone for the disinfection of water.
As from 1920 diseases like cholera and tyfus no longer occurred due to the improved purification of drinking water. In these years also the first basic membrane filters, flocculation and coagulation methods were developed.
More information: www.lenntech.com
Zuiderzee Works: Northeast Polder
The original 1891 plan called for the largest, southeastern polder to be built after the Wieringermeer, but it was decided in 1932 to give precedence to the northeastern one, which was smaller and therefore considered easier. This would be the Noordoostpolder (Northeast-polder). Due to initial financial difficulties, construction did not begin until 1936. Two dikes, totaling 55 km in length, steadily grew in the IJsselmeer, one from Lemmer in Friesland to the island of Urk, the other from Vollenhove in Overijssel to Urk. Construction of these dikes and the necessary pumping stations was disrupted during World War II during the 1940 German conquest of the Netherlands. The encircling dikes were both closed in December 1940, and the pumping stations started draining in early 1941. The Noordoostpolder was considered to be sufficiently drained in September 1942, and the developmental process was then put in motion on the 480 km² of new land.
The polder contains two former islands: the glacial moraine hill of Urk, and the elongated strip of peat land known as Schokland, abandoned in the 19th century. Urk was then and is still today a fishing community and it served as a natural construction-island for both dikes as well as a base of operations for the later exploitation of the polder.
The flood of 1953
The 1953 North Sea flood (Dutch, Watersnoodramp, literally "flood disaster") was a major flood caused by a heavy storm, that occurred on the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 and morning of 1 February 1953. The floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland.
A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm surge (known locally as a "storm tide"). The combination of wind, high tide and low pressure had the effect that the water level exceeded 5.6 metres (18.4 ft) above mean sea level in some locations. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding. The Netherlands, a country that is partly located below mean sea level and relies heavily on sea defences, was mainly affected, recording 1,836 deaths and widespread property damage. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern province of Zeeland.
as a result of the widespread damage, the Netherlands particularly, and the United Kingdom had major studies on means to strengthen coastal defences. The Netherlands developed the Delta Works, an extensive system of dams and storm surge barriers.
Want to know more about the Delta Works? Please visit www.deltawerken.com.
Inauguration Delta Commission
Twenty days after the flood of 1953, the Delta commission was inaugurated. The commission would give advice about the execution of the Deltaplan, that would, in the long run, increase the safety of the Delta area. Although safety was the number one priority, the seaways De Nieuwe Waterweg and the Western Schelde would have to stay open, because of the economic importance of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. In order to be able to build dams in the rivers' mouths, some auxiliary dams would first have to be built in the Zandkreek, the Krammer, the Grevelingen, and the Volkerak. These dams were known as 'compartment dams', since they would divide the large area of water into multiple compartments. In 1959, the Delta Law was passed, in order to organise the construction of the dams.
Start building the Delta Works
The Delta Works is a series of construction projects in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers. The aim of the dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers was to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised.
Along with the Zuiderzee Works, Delta Works have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Want to know all about the Delta Works? Then visit www.deltawerken.com and find out all about this enormous project, that it was sometimes referred to as the 'eighth wonder of the world' - and not without good reason.
Zuiderzee Works: Flevoland
After a flood in 1916, it was decided that the Zuiderzee, an inland sea within the Netherlands, would be enclosed and reclaimed: the Zuiderzee Works started. In 1932, the Afsluitdijk was completed, which closed off the sea completely. The Zuiderzee was subsequently called IJsselmeer (lake at the end of the river IJssel).
Eastern Flevoland (Oostelijk Flevoland or Oost-Flevoland) and Southern Flevoland (Zuidelijk Flevoland or Zuid-Flevoland), unlike the Noordoostpolder, have peripheral lakes between them and the mainland: the Veluwemeer and Gooimeer respectively, making them, together, the world's largest artificial island.
They are two separate polders that have a joint hydrological infrastructure, with a dividing dike in the middle, the Knardijk, that will keep one polder safe should the other be flooded. The two main drainage canals that traverse the dike can be closed by floodgates in such an event. The pumping stations are the Wortman (diesel powered) at Lelystad-Haven, the Lovink near Harderwijk on the mainland and the Colijn (both electrically powered) along the northern dike beside the Ketelmeer.
A new element in the design of Eastern Flevoland is the larger city Lelystad (1966), named after Cornelis Lely, the man who had played a crucial role in designing and realising the Zuiderzee Works.
Delta Works: Opening Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier
The Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier, between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland, is the largest of the 13 ambitious Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea.
The nine-kilometre-long Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier was initially designed, and partly built, as a closed dam, but after public protest, huge sluice-gate-type doors were installed in the remaining four kilometres. These doors are normally open, but can be closed under adverse weather conditions. In this way, the saltwater marine life behind the dam is preserved and fishing can continue, while the land behind the dam is safe from the water.
The dam is based on 65 concrete pillars with 62 steel doors, each 42 metres wide. The parts were constructed in a dry dock. The area was flooded and a small fleet of special construction ships lifted the pillars and placed them in their final positions. Each pillar is between 35 and 38.75 metres high and weighs 18000 tonnes. The dam is designed to last more than 200 years.
Evacuation of Rhine, Muse and Waal river area
One of the biggest recent evacuations in Dutch history is the one that occurred one the 31st of January 1995. On that that day and the following days 250.000 people were evacuated from large parts of land along the rivers Rhine, Muse and Waal. This was due to heavy rainfall in Belgium and Northern France that caused a dangerous high water level in these rivers. In case of a levee breach a lot of land would have been flooded and the water level would have been 5 meters high.
Fortunately the levees did not breach, but in the Province of Limburg a lot of cities did get flooded because of the extreme high water levels. At the most critical point the water level in the Rhine was +16,63 meters above NAP.
Due to increased river discharges caused by large volumes of melt and rainwater from the upstream regions a new approach was needed. Instead of continuing to increase the height and size of the levees, the Netherlands is now giving water more space (Room for the River project).
More information: Room for the River project www.roomfortheriver.nl
Delta Works: Maeslantkering
The construction of the Maeslantkering was a part of the Europoortkering project which, in turn, was the final stage of the Delta Works.
The construction of the barrier started in 1991. First the dry docks were constructed on both shores and a sill was constructed at the bottom of the Nieuwe Waterweg. Then the two 22 metre high and 210 metre long steel gates were built. After this, 237 metre long steel trusses were welded to the gates. Standing upright, these arms would be as high as the Eiffel Tower, but each one weighs two times more than the Eiffel Tower. The main purpose of the arms is transmitting the immense forces, exerted on the gates while closed, to one single joint at the rear of each gate. During the closing or opening process, this ball shaped joint gives the gate the opportunity to move freely under the influences of water, wind and waves. It acts like a ball-and-socket joint, such as the human shoulder or hip. The joints were made in the Czech republic at Škoda Works. The ball shaped joint is the largest in the world, with a diameter of 10 metres, and weighing 680 tons. The construction of the barrier cost 450 million euro. The total Europoortkering-project had cost 660 million euro.
On May 10, 1997, after six years of construction, Queen Beatrix opened the Maeslantkering. The barrier is connected to a self-operating computer system which is linked to weather and sea level data. Under normal weather conditions the two doors themselves are well protected in their dry docks and a 360 metre wide gap in the waterway gives ships enough space to pass without any inconvenience. But when a storm surge of 3 metres above normal sea level is anticipated in Rotterdam, the barrier will be closed automatically. Four hours before the actual closing procedure begins, incoming and outgoing ships are warned. Two hours before closing the traffic at the Nieuwe Waterweg comes to a standstill. Thirty minutes before closing the dry docks that contain the gates are flooded. After this the gates start to float and two so-called "locomobiles" move the gates towards each other. When the gap between the gates is about 1.5 metre wide, water is let inside the hollows of the gates, so that they submerge to the bottom of the waterway. The bottom has been elaborately dug and then laid with layers of broken stone, so that the gates are able to form a relatively watertight fit when submerged. In cases where the gates have to be shut for a prolonged period, which would cause the waters of the Rhine to rise behind them, the gate hollows are partly emptied and floated, so that excess river water runs out to sea, before they are submerged again. The decision-making algorithm that sequences storm surge-triggered events in the Maeslantkering is run entirely by computer.
For more detailed information and information about water management in the Netherlands you can visit the information centre, which is open every day and admission is free: www.keringhuis.nl.
More information about the Delta Works and the Maeslantkering: www.deltawerken.com.
Chlorine free drinking water
In 2005 the Dutch government decided chlorine could no longer be used as first disinfection method for drinking water. Therefore 80% of all drinking water in the Netherlands is now free of chlorine and can be tapped straight from the household tap. Drinking water companies nowadays use UV light or ozone to treat their drinking water.
More information: www.lenntech.com/library/index.htm
Room for the River program
The residents in the Dutch river region were confronted with anxious times in 1993 and 1995. The water levels were extremely high and the levees just managed to hold. A quarter of a million people had to be evacuated.
Extremely high river discharges will occur more frequently in the future and for this reason it was decided to ensure that the rivers could discharge the forecast greater volumes of water without flooding. The Government approved the Room for the River program in 2007.
This plan has three objectives:
- by 2015 the branches of the Rhine will cope with a discharge capacity of 16,000 cubic metres of water per second without flooding;
- the measures implemented to increase safety will also improve the overall environmental quality of the river region;
- the extra room the rivers will need in the coming decades to cope with higher discharges due to the forecast climate changes, will remain permanently available.
More information: Room for the River
New Deltaplan, climate adaptation and preparing for the future
The Netherlands is a low-lying country, vulnerable to flooding. The government intends to protect the Netherlands against high water and secure a sufficient supply of fresh water now and in the future. For this reason, we are planning ahead in the Delta Programme, in which various authorities and other organisations collaborate. The plans are being drawn up under the direction of the government commissioner for the Delta Programme: the Delta Commissioner.
For more information: english.deltacommissaris.nl
The Sand Motor
The Sand Motor is an innovative method for coastal protection. The Sand Motor (also known as Sand Engine) is a huge volume of sand that has been applied along the coast of Zuid-Holland at Ter Heijde in 2011. Wind, waves and currents will spread the sand naturally along the coast of Zuid-Holland. This is called ‘Building with Nature’. The Sand Motor will gradually change in shape and will eventually be fully incorporated into the dunes and the beach. The coast will be broader and safer.
For more information: www.zandmotor.nl
The up scaling of process conditions to form aerobic granular sludge in a municipal waste water treatment plant has successfully been completed at the first full scale Nereda plant at Epe, the Netherlands.
World's first wwtp with natural formed aerobic ganulate sludge, was officially commissioned on May 8 2012.
Nereda is an innovative and award-winning wastewater treatment technology. The Nereda treatment process purifies water using the unique features of aerobic granular biomass. The Nereda method is sustainable, biological and cost-effective.
For more information: Nereda
Maasvlakte II Port of Rotterdam
"With Maasvlakte 2, the Netherlands is throwing the door wide open to the newest generation of container ships. And we offer space for the latest terminals. The port is growing 20 percent larger, and the container capacity has doubled. Thousands of direct and indirect jobs will be created."
With these words Dutch minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure and the Environment, officially opened Maasvlakte 2 for shipping on 22 May 2013. Read more
For more information: Maasvlakte
Special Envoy for International Water Affairs
The Dutch government has appointed Henk Ovink as the first Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In his capacity as thematic ambassador, Ovink reinforces Dutch ambitions in the water domain; he contributes to boosting the international market position of Dutch know-how and expertise.
Contact with actors
The key task of the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs involves economic diplomacy: as the ambassador for the Dutch water sector, he is responsible for maintaining good relations with foreign governments, knowledge institutions, umbrella organisations, coordinating and representative bodies, the business community and civil society organisations.
He establishes connections with other relevant Dutch sectors, such as energy, agriculture, the creative industry. He collaborates closely with Dutch Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Representatives.
He also maintains direct contact with bilateral and multilateral actors such as the World Bank, the United Nations, the OECD and the EU. He attends international water meetings, if needed as a representative of the Ministers. Read more
Mater plan reinforcement Afsluitdijk
On 12 May 2015 the Dutch government revealed its master plan for a complete reinforcement of the 32 km long closure dam the Afsluitdijk, the Netherlands. The reinforcement is necessary as the seaside slope of the 80 years old closure dam is no longer strong enough to meet flood safety standards.
The master plan also includes the construction of a 5 km long artificial fish migration river and the construction of a new pumping station. With a capacity of 400 m3/s, the station will be the biggest in Europe.
The project is expected to start in 2017 and has been budgeted for 850 million euro. Read more