Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wind and Water

Quickly, now: what does a strong northwesterly wind have to do with Dutch floods?

The picture taken today was of the Ooijpolder, under at least 1 m of water. The uitwaters have done their assigned tasks and flooded accordingly, but it might not be enough: the Waal flooded its banks and it's gotten to the point where the barges have been using trees and other tall objects to determine where the banks are. The Bisonbaai (alas, no nude beaches this time of year) has all but disappeared, and indeed the only indications that there ever was land in many places is the presence of treetops sticking out of the water. The most remarkable thing about the picture is that just 6 weeks ago, it was dry land--indeed, it was nearly in danger of drought--and covered with konikpaarden and those weird little cows.

The rivers in the Netherlands flow from east to west, culminating in a delta on the west coast around Rotterdam. Most of the time, whatever extra water is brought down the rivers just gets dumped out to sea, but this time, a strong northwesterly wind prevented the emptying of the swollen rivers. Add to this the near-record rainfall in December (well, it certainly seemed like a record rainfall) and you have yourself a flood in the making. The flood of 1953, for instance, was caused in part by wind gusts pushing the ocean against the already-weakened dikes. Happily, this time, there is no storm brewing (yet) and the country, while sodden, isn't in danger of drowning.

When you consider what the Dutch have had to do to the landscape to make it habitable--and that, even with 2000 years of water management behind them, flooding remains a perpetual danger--the only logical conclusion to draw is that these people are bloody crazy. Sure, the cows make great cheese and the asparagus is like none other, but I don't think anybody can say, with a straight face, that these were worth the effort, not to mention the lives of all those who drowned when the dikes didn't hold.

Maybe it's all those potatoes.


  1. If it comes down to keeping water in its place, I generally trust the Dutch more than I would most others. It's always been a little unnerving to see the canals channelled about three meters above the surrounding fields - anywhere else the water would just leak under.

  2. I am so happy I don't live near a river at the moment.

  3. @ Dave: Oh, I completely agree--Dutch water engineering is definitely more trustworthy than, say, China's (25 years from now, the Three Gorges dam is going to to bust).

    @ Invader Stu: It must be really unnerving to live along the coast.