An increasing number of coastal communities are at risk from climate change-related damage. With rising sea levels, extreme weather events and similar phenomena, the country’s shorelines are beginning to change in dramatic ways. The issue extends far beyond the United States; however, and its escalation has significant implications for people around the world.
in the Netherlands serves as just one example on a growing list of affected
areas. This port city in the Dutch province of South Holland has experienced
the full effects of climate change. They’ve taken a different approach than the
current administration in the U.S., addressing the subject of rising sea levels
with new solutions instead of a wait-and-see mentality.
Netherlands has even made a business of climate change, viewing it as a
lucrative opportunity for high-tech engineering and water management projects.
They’ve devised lakes, parks, plazas and garages that act as enormous
reservoirs when the rivers and seas spill over. Instead of keeping the water at
bay, so to speak, they’ve learned to live with something they feel is
country’s early history may account for their perspective on climate change and
willingness to adapt. Settlers in the small nation were familiar with the
pressures of living in waterlogged areas, unable to make progress unless they
embraced their circumstances. Water was a constant presence, and they accepted
its place in their culture, treating it as a part of their national identity.
this in mind, what can we learn from the Netherlands’ approach to climate
change? How have they acclimated to their conditions, and how can we reclaim
affected shorelines in the wake of a disaster? These interwoven questions have
interesting answers, and we’ll examine them in detail as we take a
comprehensive look at climate change and water management in the next decade.
Looking at Rotterdam
nationwide program in the Netherlands called “Room for the River” has
improved on traditional strategies for water management. A 22-acre area of
reclaimed fields and canals called the “Eendragtspolder” is an
excellent example of their progressive approach to climate change. The
Eendragtspolder collects floodwater in emergencies, but that description
doesn’t fully encapsulate its value.
its utility as a reservoir, the Eendragtspolder also serves as a popular
retreat for cyclists and those interested in water sports. It hosted the World
Rowing Championships in 2016, a claim which speaks to the success of the
“Room for the River” program. The Netherlands has found a way to
capitalize on the effects of climate change and effectively mitigate them at
the same time.
When the Eendragtspolder isn’t hosting a sporting event, it acts as a reservoir for the Rotte River Basin. If the nearby Rhine overflows — which researchers predict will happen every decade — the Eendragtspolder is there to preserve the safety of Rotterdam residents. They can trust in the Netherlands’ solutions for water management to protect them from rising sea levels.
Dutch haven’t rested on the success of their “Room for the River”
program to address the threat of climate change. In addition to reservoirs like
Eendragtspolder, they’ve also developed a national GPS-guided app which informs
a resident of how far below sea level they are at any given moment. Dutch
children must also learn to swim in clothes and shoes if they want to use a
public pool unrestricted.
short, the Netherlands has reinvented itself as a world leader in environmental
ingenuity. They’ve demonstrated the potential of new technologies for water
management, not only in places like Rotterdam but domestic cities like New York
or Los Angeles. Of course, these cities and similar areas have their own
methods of water management, combating climate change with techniques that are
slightly more familiar.
Reclaiming U.S. Shorelines
Netherlands is proactive with climate change, preparing for issues far in
advance of an emergency situation. They focus on prevention instead of damage
control. While this is effective, and far less costly than the alternative,
certain communities in high-risk areas don’t have the resources to integrate a
program like “Room for the River.”
These coastal towns and cities can only reinforce their existing defenses and reclaim their shorelines after the disaster has passed. To that end, they have several solutions for reclamation in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. The process of dredging has proven value for the rehabilitation of an affected area.
specifically, dredging is beneficial for sediment removal and shoreline or
beachfront restoration. It effectively clears an obstructed waterway through
the relocation of silt, sand, gravel and other subaqueous materials that create
blockages. This facilitates the recovery of a community and keeps their ports
navigable for recreational and commercial users.
Communities also have to consider the subject of debris management as they attend to their shorelines. It’s essential to establish a strategy that determines the details of collection and removal: who collects the debris, when they should collect specific debris streams, where to haul the debris and how to communicate the plan to the public.
significant number of people have to coordinate to maintain the quality of a
shoreline. With dredging and debris management, they can gradually begin to
address the damage from a natural disaster. Of course, these strategies for
containing the effects of climate change aren’t always the most attractive,
especially among other options.
Combating Climate Change
typical solutions for sea level rise — such as sea walls — are quickly losing
their appeal with the introduction of alternate techniques. Boston was intent
on building a massive sea wall before they turned their attention to other
methods of water management. An $11 billion investment in a wall no longer
seemed like the best course of action when they reviewed their options.
City planners have shown interest in the Dutch concept of coexisting with water. They’ve seen the success of the Netherlands’ reservoirs and they want to apply the idea in Boston. Their reimagined waterfront would handle at least 21 inches of sea level rise by channeling water into parks — 67 acres of green space along the water with the restoration of 122 tidal acres.
Mayor Martin Walsh is excited for the changes, saying of the sea wall,
“Besides taking decades to complete, a barrier would bring its own set of
serious ecological issues… Shoreline projects are more feasible and more
effective ways to increase our city’s resilience… This is our vision of a
resilient Boston. It’s a system not of barricades but of beaches and parks and
trails and open spaces.”
At the same time, coastal cities in states like Florida and Hawaii are continuing to invest in their existing sea walls. They may benefit by following Rotterdam’s example, as well as the example of other countries around the world with different views on climate change. For example, planners in Greenland are attempting to reduce sea level rise through the integration of submerged barriers and dams.
hope to manage the ice melt of ice sheets and glaciers through the strategic
placement of these barriers and dams. While this particular method may not seem
relevant to a state like Florida, the point remains the same. Innovating on
past solutions is far more promising than a continued reliance on current
techniques for water management.
Moving Into the Next Decade
levels have increased by 20 centimeters over the last century, with a rapid
acceleration since the early 1990s. Glaciers and ice caps have melted at an
alarming rate, and with these changes, coastal communities have experienced
first-hand the damaging effects of climate change. Experts predict that these
issues will only intensify if the country remains on its current trajectory.
we have a diverse variety of solutions to protect against flooding, extreme
weather events and related phenomena. As of now, sea walls are prevalent, but
it’s clear the country can’t afford to keep building and repairing these
defenses. City planners need to engage in a serious discussion on the subject
and acknowledge the value of integrated reservoirs.
said, it’s impossible to manage the issues associated with climate change
without addressing the source. Sea walls, reservoirs, barriers and dams may
help to mitigate the damage from climate change, but they don’t deal with it
directly. They’re a temporary solution to a persistent problem, one that will
continue to grow until we’ve exhausted our options.
of reclamation like dredging and debris management will help, and they’ll prove
indispensable in the coming decade. Even so, these efforts can place pressure
on a community that may not have the resources to rehabilitate their
shorelines. This is true in first world countries like the United States and an
undeniable fact in developing countries elsewhere.
what are the next steps? How do we move forward when the world itself is
against us? It starts with restoration on a much larger scale, taking what
we’ve learned from researchers, scientists and environmental organizations and
applying it in our everyday lives — whether it’s something as small as riding a
bicycle to work or participating in group efforts with other like-minded
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger on conservation and sustainability. To see her latest posts, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter, @emilysfolk!