Visiting the Delta Project

We just came back from a short trip to view the Delta Project, and a road trip through the Zeeland province.

The Delta project is a fantastically Dutch civil engineering project, which even has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. And yet in the year that celebrates the 50th birthday of it’s inception, most Dutch people tend to ignore it, politicians have forgotten its significance, and the tourism industry names them rarely.

What’s it all about then?

The Netherlands have always been plagued by flooding [1]. The low lying river delta and its reclaimed land relied on dikes to keep our feed dry. In 1953 particular nasty storm [2] led to the flooding of most of Zeeland and parts of Zuid-Holland. It resulted in the deaths of 1836 Dutchmen and the loss of 47300 homes. Coming at a time of optimism after the Second World War, politicians decided “No more!”, and so they begun researching the possibilities of controlling the flood waters.

The aim of the Delta works was, through the use of the dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers, to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. In total, the Delta Works are the largest storm barrier in the world and have served as an example to many similar projects all over the world. In itself this plan wasn’t new. But in 1953 the technological means, the will and the reasons all coalesced to get the project off the ground.

Between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland, still lies the largest of the 13 ambitious projects. The nine-kilometre-long Oosterscheldekering (kering meaning barrier) was initially designed, and partly built, as a closed dam, but after public protest, huge sluice-gate-type doors were installed in the remaining four kilometres. These doors are normally open, but can be closed under adverse weather conditions. In this way, the salt water marine life behind the dam is preserved and fishing can continue, while the land behind the dam is safe from the water.

The Oosterscheldekering was the most difficult to build and most expensive part of the Delta works. Work on the dam took more than a decade. To facilitate the building, an artificial island Neeltje-Jans was created in the middle of the estuary. When the construction was finished, the island was rebuilt to be used as education centre for visitors and as a base for maintenance works. The dam is based on 65 concrete pillars with 62 steel doors, each 42 metres wide. The parts were constructed in a dry dock. The area was flooded and a small fleet of special construction ships lifted the pillars and placed them in their final positions. Each pillar is between 35 and 38.75 metres high and weighs 18000 tonnes. The dam is designed to last more than 200 years.

The trip

So as you see, It’s worthwhile to see it up close. Our trip took us from The Hague, through Rotterdam [3], over the various dams, across the Oosterscheldekering, and finally through the Westerscheldetunnel to the most western tip of the Netherlands, to our destination in a run down beach hotel [4].

The artificial island is still there, and now contains sort of a theme park. We had hoped to find a lot of interesting information, but alas. The park had been bought by a Spanish water park giant some years previous. The neglect was visible. The admission was outrageously expensive. We got to see a movie about the disaster, which looked like it was made in the 1970’s. Then we saw a movie about the building projects. Which was made in the 1980’s. The barren island contained little but rusted metal, and a few closed buildings for animal performances. We did get to go into the insides of the Oosterscheldekering, which was kinda cool. We were quite depressed by the state of the whole park, and surprised that the Dutch government would allow one of its main cultural treasures to go to waste like this.

Our trip concluded in the most south-western part of the Netherlands, where we enjoyed the quiet beauty of an off-season beach. The next morning we drove back to the Hague, taking in the flat landscape, knitted together by bridges and dams. A highly recommended road-trip for anyone vaguely interested in this intriguing bit of Dutch history.

Notes:

  1. Wikipedia has a nice overview of the major Dutch floods
  2. Read more about the 1953 disaster.
  3. Where we took a look at the impressive Maeslantkering
  4. The Fletcher beach hotel had clearly seen better days, though certainly not in this century.