Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Dear Congress, When Will You Ever Learn?

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, August 30, 2021

On July 20, 1969, the engineers in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas breathed a collective sigh of relief combined with exuberant joy at 1618 that afternoon when Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong made the following transmission:

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

Like NASA’s Eagle, the Lunar Module moon landing spacecraft of so many years ago, Hurricane Ida — a category 4 storm with devastating 150mph winds, catastrophic storm surge, and life-threatening flooding combined with widespread power outages, and more destruction yet to be discovered — has landed, exactly 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated the Pelican State.

And like a salmon returning to its spawning spot, Ida came ashore at the exact same location as Katrina – New Orleans.

But with this landing, there is no joy in Mudville. There is no collective sigh of relief. There’s only Heartache v2.0, and even more tragically, with apparently little-to-no lessons learned.

Now, as our nation is on the precipice of some modicum of advancement, with massive spending on sorely-needed national infrastructure, both hard and soft, there seems to be absolutely no discussion of amelioration of either storm damage, or other environmental disaster associated with global climate change.

And sadly, there’s been no discussion of purchasing, designing, or creating a fleet of aerial supertankers to extinguish forest fires which have occurred with regular and increasing frequency in the west.

It’s not as if it can’t be done, for the Dutch embarked upon such a plan following a particularly disastrous North Sea Storm the night of Saturday, January 31 – Sunday, February 1, 1953 in which flooding over 18 feet above mean sea level devastated the Netherlands, wreaking death and destruction
• flooding 9% of total Dutch farmland,
• drowning over 30,000 livestock animals,
• damaging 47,300 buildings,
• totally destroying 10,000,
• claiming 1,835 lives,
• forcing the evacuation of 70,000 more, and
• covering 527 square miles of land.

Buid Zeeland, Netherlands 1953 North Sea Flood
Image made by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from a U.S. Army helicopter of the 1953 North Sea Flood in the Netherlands.

It was devastating, to say the least, and the Netherlands was not the only nation so affected. Belgium, England, Scotland, and Ireland were affected, and it was the worst, most catastrophic flooding of England and Scotland in the 20th century.

To give some idea of the area involved, imagine drawing a radius line extending 13 miles out from the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The area enclosed by that circle would be 527 square miles.

Unlike hurricanes, which are tracked from their point of origin off the western coast of the African continent, North Sea storms are notoriously unpredictable, and frequently violent.

But the Dutch, determined they would never again be victimized by, or fall prey to the often-unpredictable wiles of Mother Nature, did something about it.

Following a brief period of research and fact-finding, they embarked upon a long-term plan with the objective of constructing a thorough national hydrological management system that would be capable of withstanding intense disasters which would occur once every ten thousand years for the most severe, and several hundred years for the least severe. They called that plan “Delta Works,” and the network of dams, storm surge/flood barriers, sluices, gates, levees, dikes, and water drainage facilities, “is one of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Seven Wonders of the Modern World.”

In response, the Dutch did something that Americans have not, and that was to plan – and plan BIG – to reduce the likelihood and extent of damage from such disasters, and as much as possible, prevent such catastrophic losses from ever occurring again, despite the fact that notoriously wicked North Sea storms have been ongoing for at least 1,179 years, occur practically without warning, have never abated, and rather, have increased in intensity.

Declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Dutch created Delta Works, consisting of a series of dams, dykes, locks, levees, sluices and storm surge barriers located throughout the provinces of South Holland and Zeeland to ameliorate or eliminate flooding and all related damage. The project was conceived as an ultimate, long-term solution to, and practical end of the ongoing problem of regular flooding from unpredictable North Sea storms. Their perspective was with a very long-term view toward the future, and established protections for failure occurrences which would occur at least:

1 per 10,000 years in North and South Holland (excluding Wieringermeer);
1 per 4,000 years for other areas at risk from sea flooding;
1 per 2,000 years for transition areas between high land and low land;
1 per 1,250 years for South Holland areas at risk from river flooding, and;
1 per 250 years for other areas at risk from river flooding.

Planning and construction for the project began in 1954, with costs estimated at approximately 3.3 billion guilder, which at the time equaled 20% of national GDP, and was spread out over 25 years to complete such a massive engineering project. Costs were financed primarily by their national budget, with an American contribution through the Marshall Plan of 400 milion guilder. As well, the discovery of Dutch natural gas resources provided significant contributions toward financing, and upon completion in 1997, costs were established at 8.2 billion guilder.

A penultimate test of their system occurred December 2013 when Cyclone Xaver, a North Sea storm, packed wind gusts over 142mph, sustained winds over 90mph, claimed 15 lives, and affected numerous European nations, including:

A December 2013 North Sea storm named Cyclone Xaver pounding the coast at the village of Porthleven, in Cornwall, England. A total of 12 nations were affected by that severe storm with flooding, and wind gusts over 140mph, and sustained winds over 90mph. Image by Bernie Pettersen.

• United Kingdom
• Republic of Ireland
• Netherlands
• Germany
• Denmark
• Faroe Islands
• Sweden
• Norway
• Poland
• Lithuania
• Isle of Man
• Belgium

While Netherlanders were affected, the damage done there was significantly lessened by the effective presence of Delta Works projects. Water levels reached their highest since the North Sea flood of 1953 at nearly 4 meters above normal sea level. In response, the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier closed all 62 locks the night of 5 December, and several areas around Rotterdam experienced some flooding, with only minor flooding reported in Dordrecht and Vlaardingen.

In contrast, the water level of the 1953 storm rose to 4.55 meters the night of 1 February, and dykes broke in at least 90 places, which made the 1953 storm the worst natural disaster in the Netherlands since the 1900s.

We could, and should, do similarly in America – to imagine, engineer, and construct hydrological management systems, particularly and especially in areas known to experience regular occurrences of such natural disasters, most notably the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Along the Atlantic coast, the states of Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland would similarly receive protection, with hydrological management systems, including storm surge barriers, and other mechanical resources as necessary.

From the Deltawerks website:

Twenty days after the flood of 1953, the Delta commission was inaugurated. The commission would give advice about the execution of the Deltaplan, that would, in the long run, increase the safety of the Delta area. Although safety was the number one priority, the seaways De Nieuwe Waterweg and the Western Schelde would have to stay open, because of the economic importance of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. In order to be able to build dams in the rivers’ mouths, some auxiliary dams would first have to be built in the Zandkreek, the Krammer, the Grevelingen, and the Volkerak [rivers]. These dams were known as ‘compartment dams’, since they would divide the large area of water into multiple compartments. In 1959, the Delta Law was passed, in order to organise the construction of the dams. The building of the ‘Delta Works’ was such an enormous project, that it was sometimes referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – and not without good reason.

Significance of the Delta Works

“Besides shortening the total length of the dikes by 700 kilometres, the Delta Works had many other advantages. Firstly, the agricultural freshwater supply was improved. Because the border between freshwater and saltwater was moved further west, less freshwater was required to balance the freshwater-saltwater division. The excess water could be transported to the north of the Netherlands, in the direction of the Ijsselmeer (Ijssel lake), where extra freshwater was welcomed to improve the water conditions.

A broad approach

“Since the flood disaster of 1953, the Dutch have developed a new sense for water management. It was realised that not only is the sea a threat, but that water in general can be very dangerous. Water also comes from the rivers and the sky. Due to climate changes, the amount of water will increase, especially in the winter. On the basis of data collected by the KNMI, the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute, it was calculated that the summer of 2004 was the wettest summer since 1951. On average, the precipitation was 314 mm for the whole of the Netherlands, whereas it is normally only 202 mm. So, the summer was extremely wet. Flooding occurred at many places, and rivers had to process large quantities of water. These, and other developments, have made the Dutch water management more than just the protection of the coast. Moreover, the image of the sea as an enemy has been proved wrong, or rather incomplete. Safety for people living in coastal areas is still top priority, but factors such as nature, recreation and habitation also have to be taken into account.”

The Dutch system has worked, and worked phenomenally well.

Suffice it to say, one would have imagined that as far back as August 17, 1969’s Hurricane Camille, after the most powerfully devastating hurricane in American history, one might have imagined that the American people would have embarked upon such a system as the Dutch, to protect our people, and minimize other losses.

But no. Time, after time, after time, after time, the United States has simply stood by and taken an abusive pounding by Mother Nature, time, after time, after time, after time, after time.

Apparently, we did not learn our lesson as we should have.

And we still haven’t.

A colloquial definition of insanity is “doing the same things over, and over, and over again, expecting different results each time.”

Have we lost our collective minds?

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