FLOOD RISK MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES IN GOOD HANDS?

By ELWIN LEUSINK and JANA STEENBERGEN-KAJABOVÁ

Fluvial floods are an extremely rare event in the Netherlands. Still, the subject of flooding gets attention in the Dutch media. This is very often news about pluvial flooding and regularly news about flood protection. The news items implicitly mention the Dutch flood risk management strategies and show that these strategies play an important role. Recent news items raised questions about the application of these strategies in our country.

This triggered us to present you shortly three recent cases that hit the news, leading to our remaining question: Who is in control of flood risk management strategies in the Netherlands?

Case 1: Almost inundation in Alphen aan den Rijn

ElwinLeusinkHeavy rainstorms caused several floodings in the Netherlands on the 28th of July this year. Throughout the country, many streets flooded because the sewer systems couldn’t handle the excessive amounts of water. Some cities faced problems with the water system: water levels rose quickly. In the town of Alphen aan den Rijn a small canal overflowed, threatening a residential neighborhood. Emergency services were timely informed. Together with employees of the municipality and the local Water Authority Rijnland, locals and emergency services filled sand bags to stop the water from overflowing the canal levee. Surrounding households were adviced to park their cars at higher grounds and to place expensive items at higher levels of the houses.

Case 2: Water in Kockengen

The town of Kockengen has had problems with water for many years. Due to land subsidence, the water level is in its normal state already close to street level, giving ample space for water storage. On the 28th of July, heavy rain made the water level rise quickly. When the water system was full, it overflowed into the streets of Kockengen. The local Water Authority of Stichtse Rijnlanden and municipality both responded by closing flooded streets, adding pump capacity and other measures. It took several days to pump out the water.

Case 3: Flood risks from Germany

The Dutch- German Working group related to the cooperation during flood events held the sixth flood protection conference in German Rees on the 30th of October. This was six years dated from the 5th event. The interest has been extremely high. Mid October this year the public in Germany had been overwhelmed by news articles about the doubtfull retaining capacity of the Dutch levees. The concerns are that if Dutch levees break, water will flow through the “backdoor” at Kleve back to Germany. Dutch press released news about the possibly weak German levees simultaneously. If the German levees break, water will flow directly down to the Netherlands….A good example of the transborder coordinated “public awareness” campaign?

In the real world, the Duch and German researchers met in between and prepared a common assessment platform for flood risk estimations of two transborder levee, rings 42 and 48. However this did not lead to a common choice of strategy yet. The strategy lacks the insights of climate change related aspects such as increase of the rainfall and melting water volumes in the river and quite important input regarding strategies and relation with the spatial planning from the Authorities on both sides of the border. Up to today, the only implemented strategy has been strengthening of the levees (and both countries in their own way).

Fortunately, based on the opinions from the public during the conference, the Transborder Working Group (Province of Gelderland, Bundes Republik Nord Rhein Westfalen government of the local Kreis and the municipalities of the towns within the two levee rings as well the ministeries of Environment and infrastructure from both countries) will provide support for making choices for the strategies and planning of a transborder “calamity” exercise. These conclusions are very important for succesful and prompt decision making in the implementation of the flood protection strategies.

Jana Steenbergen4 kleur_compressedAll strategies are used, local elements play an important role

The resilience of Dutch flood risk management was tested several times this year. Although the Dutch are sometimes criticized for over-relying on flood defence, here we see some examples in which the other flood risk management (FRM) strategies seem to be effectively applied. These strategies are subject of research within the STARFLOOD-project. We see the strategies of flood defense, flood preparation, flood recovery, and risk prevention. The variety of strategies might be well explained by local geographic and demographic situation, opportunities and restrictions. This is demonstrated in the example of Alphen aan den Rijn where emergency services advised to park cars at higher grounds.

We see many different FRM strategies being used in the Netherlands. The leading role is taken by local Water Authorities, by municipalities, by emergency services or other government organizations. The information from the media coverage does not provide information whether the actions taken are part of a formal strategy or common practice without any formal basis. The media suggest that the organizations are not always very well coordinated in their actions. This raises questions for us: How well are the strategies of all organization synchronized? Is there a formal strategy per region or area? Is everybody sufficiently well informed about the flood risk management strategy of others? Who is responsible for the flood risk management strategy in a particular area? In other words: is flood risk management in good hands?

We expect that the findings of the STAR-FLOOD researchers will help to answer these questions. We believe that their knowledge and information should be used for a constructive discussion about flood risk management in the Netherlands. This should be a local discussion between (at least) municipalities, water boards, provinces and emergency services. The result of this discussion has to be that every organization knows their role within the flood risk management strategies applied in their region.