As a follow-up to the report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) (see our post here) regarding flooding in Europe, we decided to look at one of the biggest flood prevention projects, the “Room for the River” project.
Reading through the EEA report “Adaptation in Europe” one could quite easily be left with the impression that European governments were unaware of the growth in flood threats and that little had been done regarding flood prevention. However, one look at the “Room for the River” project would soon show a different story.
The project is mostly set in the Netherlands, but will eventually include Germany, France and Switzerland. The river in the project title is actually several European rivers: the great European river Rhine which runs through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and the, Netherlands,
the Meuse (which rises in France), and the 2 Dutch rivers, the Waal, and the Ijssel. The project is expected to run until 2015, with a budget of around €2.2 billion.
So what does Room for the River mean?
The plan is to offer a new approach to flood planing: Breaking the Trend, as the official project website puts it. Rather than simply build more or higher dikes in an attempt to keep the rivers where they should be, this project will give the rivers more room. In 30 different locations through the Netherlands, land will be designated as specific flood areas, so that if or when the river levels rise to flood levels, the water can be drained safely and efficiently into these areas.
This approach is thought to be safer, certainly in the long term, than simply building or reinforcing dikes. Dutch flood experts believe that flood levels are likely to rise to levels where dikes will eventually be broken, and so endangering the people who live in those areas.
According to the Room for the River project website:
The area available for the rivers has decreased continually during the past centuries. The rivers are confined between high dikes and more people live behind the dikes. At the same time the land behind the dikes has sunk due to soil subsidence. In addition, since it now rains harder and more frequently the rivers need to discharge more water to the sea. A flood in the current conditions would put the safety of 4 million people at risk.
So rather than build dikes right along the river bank, instead new dikes will now be built much further from the river, thus creating a floodplain which will give more space for any flood overflows. In turn it is planned to lower the level of the flood plains, river beds and side channels. Obstacles that hinder the draining of flood water (for example some groynes and bridges) may be removed. There will also be a flood bypass – a green channel for the river to flow during periods of flood levels. This “Green Channel” is planned to bypass the Gelderland towns of Veessen and Wapenveld in the Netherlands. Where making room for the river is not possible, dikes will be strengthened. See the Room for the River website for more explanation and images here.
This room for the river philosophy is similar to the one discussed by Nature Conservancy’s Michael Reuter in the video clip about the flooding of the Illinois River on our post here. In the video he says:
Now is the time to develop a new approach in floodplain management that works with nature — not against it.