Nathan Stubbs

Tale of two deltas

by Nathan Stubbs

As hurricane season gets under way today, Sen. Mary Landrieu is getting a first-hand look at how the Netherlands continues to lead the world in coastal protection. Landrieu is heading up a delegation from Louisiana and Washington, D.C., in the Netherlands to look at the country’s world-class flood protection systems. Today’s dispatch from The New York Times shows there continues to be a lot Louisianians could learn from the Dutch.

The Times reports the delegation is visiting with the Netherlands’ second delta commission, a group established in 2007 partly due to the devastation witnessed with Hurricane Katrina. The commission has been tasked with making the country “climate proof,” taking into account sea level rises that may occur from global warming over the next 100 to 200 years. That was just one of the eye-openers for the delegation. Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of Louisiana-based, is quoted saying, “People here trust their government and don’t realize they live below sea level. They laughed at us when we asked what would happen if the levees break. They say they are not going to break.”

Despite that confidence, the Dutch are taking several new measures to ensure their protection into the future. Lately, their focus has shifted away from building higher levees and more toward water retention. This includes innovative plans for underground water storage and facilities such as parks and parking garages that can double as retention areas — ideas that seemed to appeal to Landrieu. The Times story quotes the senator saying, “We’ve learnt from the Dutch that you can have great protection, but instead of a wall, maybe you have a building, maybe you have a park. People say we can’t afford that, but it can actually be cheaper to do it that way, because you can use it for two or three different purposes. This integrated European model is a very important concept to introduce into American schools of engineering and architecture.”