The Dutch are the recognized experts in “living with water.” As a nation, the people of the Netherlands have struggled to hold back the sea for hundreds of years. Much like the people of New Orleans, they’ve suffered and prospered thanks to their proximity and intimacy with the sea.
And after multiple setbacks, New Orleans and the Netherlands both insist that humans can and should and shall continue to live and work in the low-lying coastal areas of their choosing.
But here is where we diverge: the Dutch take a holistic approach to “living with water.” Yes, they have gates and walls and levees to keep the water out of their homes, farms and cities.
But they don’t stop there.
The people of the Netherlands understand the need to plan for the worst: sea level rise, more powerful storms in the future, and protection system failures.
You get a hint of this in this recent article on the advice Dutch experts are giving to coastal California communities.
“People realize we can't just raise levees forever. If something goes wrong, you have an entire city that will be flooded in an instant. Water is a fact — we need to do something about it,” said David Van Raalten, project manager for the pilot project between the Netherlands and California and a principal in ARCADIS, an international engineering and consultancy firm.
The article notes that the Dutch have been elevating houses and setting aside land for floodplains. They’ve adopted a multi-tiered strategy that effectively multiplies their safety from flooding.
It is sad to note that New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, not even the Federal government have adopted such strategies. Quite the opposite in fact.
In New Orleans, residents defiantly demanded the “right to rebuild” in even the most flood-prone areas of the city. Local zoning and permitting rules made it all too easy to obtain a building permit to repair severely damaged houses. And the Road Home Program actually penalized homeowners who elected to move to higher ground—especially if they left the state of Louisiana.
We say we admire the Dutch. We say we want to follow their example.
But it’s obvious we don’t really mean it.