« | Home | Categories | »

Holland has solved this problem; why can’t the US?

Posted on August 31st, 2017 at 12:49 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment


… scientists — specifically meteorologists — predicted much of what Harvey would do, even if Trump claimed nobody knew how terrible itwould be.

This quote was sent to me by Grumpy, who added this comment:


This article is about how The Netherlands protects itself from the see better than the USA. The US has a different set of challenges, but the article is just scratching the surface. Yes, Dutch trust their government more, yes, Dutch are less in denial, yes, Dutch are more “social” about it. Though there is one “unique” thing that the article does not mention.

The Dutch have 4 levels of governmental oversight. Next to federal, state and municipal there is also the “waterschap” government, complete with elections, taxes and a legislative, executive, and (small) judiciary branch. These are not unique to The Netherlands; Begium, France, The UK and South Africa, have them too, all copies or former parts of the Dutch system. And there is the Philippines that hired some Dutchies to set up Water Boards (what’s in a name?) over there in the late ’70s. The interesting part is the amount of power they have over all other levels of government. They can basically veto any building project, close any road, evacuate people by force, and claim any recourse they need. In times of war they even are responsible for flooding defense. But I digress… The point is, water cannot be done at state level (water follows gravity) and not at federal level (power attracts politics). Waterschappen have been a major part of the Dutch governing bodies, way before Dutch independence, the (continuous) records go back to the dark ages: the 1100s.

The point about “science” is actually not emphasized enough. About half the people that work to keep The Netherlands safe from the water are scientists, a higher ratio than any US governmental body, including the NASA, NSA, etc. Of the other half, most are very experienced or are in training for over 20 years to become senior. Also these people are taken seriously. If a “dijkgraaf” (kind of like the mayor of the waterschap) or “heemraad” is interviewed by a journalist, there is no discussion about whether there are “alternate facts”. If they say “Water levels will rise by 4cm this year.” it is taken as a fact and a follow up question would be: “What does that mean?” and not: “Well, that is one opinion.” I think this is mainly because the politics is kept to a minimum. This is due, in part I think because before the consolidation from 2500 waterschappen just after WW2, into the 23 there are now, they were used to very large meetings where consensus was the only way to get anything done. In fact it has a name, this is called the “poldermodel”. But, again, I digress… The whole structure of how waterschappen are regulated is politically low-key, (like the Dutch senate). The assembly of states (Provinciale Staten) manages the structure of Waterschappen (though not in The West) except for the the “dijkgraaf” who is appointed by the king (meaning the ministers).

An other point which is left totally unmentioned is that the waterschap protects against too much water, but it also protect against too little water. This is very important to for example farmers or people that live on “veen” grounds. The USA has major problems with droughts, mostly in the north and south east and Hawaii. Again, something that cannot be done at state of federal level and definitely should not be politicized.

The Dutch build quite a few pumping stations in the USA after hurricane Katrina, a majority of which is currently not operational. In the Netherlands outage of a single backup station is extremely rare. Heck 400-year-old windmills are kept operational as backup backup systems.

As “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” is the answer to “Why do the Westerners control all the cargo?” one could argue that the answer to “Why do the Dutch control all the water?” is “Tradition, Trust, and Consensus.”

Arguing that the USA should implement Dutch practices is arguing for a Cargo cult.

  1. Dutch society has deep roots in cooperation and being sensible.

    American society has deep roots in liberty, property rights, and capitalism.

    These lead to different outcomes.

    Concretely, for states that have water to agree to share with those that need it would imply that there is agreement on how the water is used. Very specifically, how much farmers are charged for the water in different places (subsidies or cost?) and whether cities in Arizona can create new suburban sprawl with grass lawns and golf courses. Some of the financial stakes are quite high and so it gets very political very quickly.

    I highly recommend reading _Cadillac Desert_.

    It also helps to realize that the low-lying parts of the Netherlands are also the more densely populated areas. There is no chance for the population of the high & dry areas to say “screw you people, we’re not paying for water management” because they’re completely and totally outnumbered by the people who are directly affected. That dynamic doesn’t exist in the US.

  2. North America is a huge water system that is variously managed by many different authorities.

    To my knowledge Northern US states and Canada have the International Joint Commission (IJC) responsible for water levels on the Great Lakes and that has many individual boards to manage the boundary waters. They have considerable power to change water levels as they see fit.

    Canada has many other water boards of the same style as the Dutch. In Ontario they are called conservation areas. They are paid for by a levy on municipal government that amounts to about $10 per household.

    If someone’s home is flooded by overground water, the municipality/province usually provides assistance and compensation, but may forbid recontruction of the home as happened to many hundreds of houses this year in the region where I live (Ottawa-Montreal). Municipalities are not meant to allow construction on “flood plain” but sometimes it happens.

    There is also a system of Riverkeepers*, the Canadian Water Network, and the Canadian Municipal Water Consortium and other organisations like the International Water Levels Coalition (private citizens group).
    *The Hudson river Riverkeeper was founded in the early 1960’s. Not-for-profit conservation watchdog organisation.

  3. Houston has numerous bayous and rivers that can carry more water than any pump system. Throw 30 inches of rain on the Dutch and watch what happens. Just one bayou was carrying 7000 cfs, that’s 3 million gallons per minute or 11.9 million liter per minute. And that’s just one bayou. And what about Beaumont? Are you going to put the same pump system there?

    I completely agree that the US supports capitalism and personnel liberty at the expense of the many too many times.

  4. Throw 30 inches of rain on the Dutch and watch what happens

    You’re trying to argue the Dutch don’t know how to deal with water? That’s like bringing a nail file to a gun fight.

  5. I’ve seen photos of the Dutch pumps. They don’t have the capacity needed for a 30 inch rain and they’re mounted below sea level (shades of Fuskashima). 30 inches over 2000 square miles is a large amount of water. The numbers are incredibly large. Let’s see: 30 inches over 3 days multiplied by 2000 sq miles.

    The system is designed for a once in a 1000 year event, but some section are only designed for once in a 100 year event (they’ll be sacrificed). Rainfall from Harvey was a once in a 500 year event over an area several times bigger than Holland. I don’t know if the rest of the Netherlands are covered by the pump system.

  6. We’ll be fine, will. If only because of one other little detail. We are very aware that climate change is real. The Gulf coast however has been hit with once in a 50 year hurricane for a few years in a row and is still electing politicians that think it’s fake.

previous post: Microsoft’s fix for web graphics going AWOL?

next post: We can jail you indefinitely for not decrypting your data