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Water Shut Off Systems Lake Mary
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NETHERLANDS -The North Sea’s furious winters can kick up storm surges more than 13 feet high – a lethal threat to a country where millions live below sea level, some as much as 22 feet down. And the Dutch have devised a peerless system of flood defenses – one of the world’s engineering marvels – to keep that water out.

Giant barriers straddle ocean inlets, their gates poised to slam shut to repel the invading sea. Massive earthen dams run for miles, blocking off vast areas once open to the North Sea, now converted to freshwater lakes and new living space.

Those are among the master strokes. But the Dutch system is also noted for its subtlety. The only thing lying between the tiny red-roofed village of Ter Heijde and the sea, a scant 200 yards away, is a big pile of sand.

It’s no ordinary dune, however. Monitored and maintained with obsessive care, it’s built to absorb pounding blows from ocean waves. It may erode, requiring repair, but it won’t fall down. It’s engineered to fail less than once every 10,000 years, making it 50 times safer than the New Orleans levees were supposed to be before Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed them.

But authorities aren’t complacent about those numbers. Concerned about projected sea level rise, the government is studying how to further fortify the dune. “It’s adequate, but we do know we will need more protection for the future, ” said Ter Heijde native Jacqueline Voois. “Growing up here, you learn you can’t trust the sea. ”

The Netherlands’ flood defenses – a sculpted landscape of dunes, dikes, dams, barriers, sluices and pumps designed to repel the twin threats of ocean storm surges and river flooding – are light years ahead of the New Orleans area’s busted-up levee system.

As American policymakers and the Army Corps of Engineers study how to rebuild the levees to protect against a Category 5 hurricane, Dutch engineers say they can learn a lot from the Dutch model, where all elements – from structural engineering to long-term policymaking – fit seamlessly together.

“Your levee system doesn’t appear to have been designed as a system. It’s designed in a very haphazard way. One structure built one way, one built another, ” said Jurjen Battjes, a professor emeritus of engineering at the Technical University of Delft and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers team investigating the New Orleans levees.

“They can move vehicles on Mars. Why should your system fail because of a wall collapsing or because an operator left the pumping station? ”
State to look closely

There was a time when New Orleans led the world in flood control and the Netherlands looked west for guidance, importing the huge screw pumps designed by Albert Baldwin Wood that had drained low-lying areas and greatly expanded New Orleans’ habitable turf. Today, the Dutch system offers a trove of examples, from policy ideas to engineering fixes, that could be useful to New Orleans. Indeed, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu next month will lead a delegation of Louisiana officials and congressional colleagues to the Netherlands to study them.

Like New Orleans, which built up its river levees after the 1927 flood and its hurricane levees after Betsy in 1965, the Dutch system has been forged in disaster. But the Dutch have a lot more disaster experience, and it shows.

For the past 1,000 years they have sculpted and resculpted their landscape to repel floods, only to see it repeatedly inundated – most recently by a 1953 North Sea storm surge that killed more than 1,800 people. Each time, they have rebuilt bigger, better and with greater sophistication. Flood protection is the number one national priority, and that is reflected not only in dikes and barriers but in politics, budgets and the concerns of everyday citizens.

Their philosophy, shaped by centuries of combating floods, is to fight water – but also to accommodate it rather than just containing it, preserving natural flows where possible. “There’s one important lesson we’ve learned as Dutch – we’re fighting a heroic fight against nature, the sea and the rivers, ” said Ted Sluijter, a spokesman for the giant Eastern Schelde storm surge barrier. “But if you fight nature, nature is going to strike back. Water needs space. ”

The Netherlands learned such lessons by trial and error over the centuries. To a far greater extent than in the United States, citizens’ lives depend on flood defenses. Studies show that without its elaborate network of flood control structures, 65 percent of the country would be underwater.

The Dutch Ministry of Water, Public Works and Transportation spends .5 billion a year on flood defense and water management. If the United States spent that much on a per-citizen basis, it would cost upward of billion annually, seven or eight times the Corps of Engineers’ annual budget of billion.

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