Delta Project

Delta Project                                                                                         Delta libellus

delta project storm barrier

People have always been attracted to the water, including rivers and coastal regions.  When branching from a river to the sea, the mouth often forms a triangular shape.  The Greeks called the mouth “delta” after the fourth letter of their alphabet, which was written in the form of a triangle.  Many famous deltas exist in the world, including our own Mississippi delta, the Nile, the Ganges, the Yangtze and in the Netherlands – the Rhine, Maas and Scheldt delta.

The Netherlands is sinking in relation to sea level.  The ground is settling and the seal level is rising as the temperature of the earth increases due to global warming issues.  Dikes were first built in the 10th century and with the recent invention of the windmill (600 yrs ago) it became possible to pump large ponds and lakes dry so new land could be reclaimed.  Only in the last 60 years have they been able to provide control from the countless floods from sea surges.  This was made possible by a massive undertaking to save their land – The Delta Project.

In 1953 the greatest flood disaster in the country’s history occurred, caused by the spring tide.  The dikes were breached if not destroyed.  Almost 2000 people drowned, and 200,000 farm animals died as the water level reached over 5 meters above their mean sea level.  But the people of the Netherlands were determined not to give up their land, and so they engineered an incredible solution.  Their solution was designed to reduce the inland flooding to once every four to ten thousand years – quite a safe margin.  Their solution in 1958 was the Delta Act.

This Act would increase the height of the dikes, shorten the coastline while providing economic benefits.  It would also improve water management, eliminate uncontrollable currents in tidal areas, combat the penetration of salt water into the ground water, create freshwater lakes and recreational areas, and improve the road networks.   Unfortunately there were some drawbacks, especially to the economics of their saltwater fishing industry and shellfish farms which had to be relocated, but at the time flood protection was their main struggle.  Environmental issues were given little consideration.

But by the 70’s there was a shift in ecological thought and a new proposal in their ongoing colossal Delta Project arose.  They decided to construct a storm surge barrier across one area to protect and preserve a uniquely rich, completely saline, unusual and highly developed ecosystem – the Eastern Scheldt.  The construction of 62 gates which could be raised to allow tidal movement and lowered during storms, was started in 1976.

The Delta Project spans decades and includes new technologies & engineering, materials and methods every step of the way.  It produced enormous effects and changes for the people, animals and plants of the landscape.  The Netherlands spared no expense in saving their country from the sea, while remaining sensitive to human intervention of ecological systems.  When looking back at the recent flooding of New York City and the coastal areas effected by Hurricane Sandy, in relation to the engineering feats and environmental preservation accomplished during the Delta Project, it feels again that we are revealing our country’s nascence when the local government quickly broadcasts to “build a sea wall” within days of the hurricane event.

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