Port of Rotterdam: Economic engine of the Netherlands surrounded by water

Water as economic requirement

The Rhine delta is a densely populated area, where 1.5 million people work and live. It also includes one of the largest economic centres in Europe: the port of Rotterdam. Through this port and its connections inland, mainland Europe is supplied with goods from all over the world. In this region, salty water from the North Sea meets fresh water from the Rhine and Meuse. Both represent an inundation threat for Rotterdam, its port and the surrounding cities, and require innovative water house holding techniques. But the water in this area also is a requirement for economic activities: the port needs good access for large vessels from and to the North Sea, and the fresh water is needed for the local industry (industrial cooling) and irrigation for large-scale greenhouse food production.

Water as a threat

After the North Sea flood of 1953, which killed more than 1800 people in the Netherlands, an ambitious flood defence system was conceived and deployed, called the Delta Works. The Delta Works were designed to protect the estuaries of the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt. The works were completed in 1998, upon completion of the storm surge Maeslant Barrier, in the Nieuwe Waterweg, near Rotterdam (see photo). The design of the Maeslant Barrier is such that it allows passage of vessels under normal conditions, and can be closed when water levels rise above 3 m above NAP.

Delta Works, Rotterdam

Maeslant Barrier, Rotterdam. Photo: Beeldbankvenw

Anticipating change

In September 2008, the Delta commission advised in a report that the Netherlands would need a follow-up of the Delta Works to strengthen the country’s water defences against the anticipated effects of global warming and associated sea-level and river-level rise for the next two centuries. This commission was created in September 2007 after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans. The plans include more than €100 billion in new spending until 2100 for water protection measures, such as broadening coastal dunes and strengthening sea and river dikes. The commission said the country in the most extreme case must plan for a rise in the North Sea of ~ 1.2 m by 2100. The ice2sea project will help to refine these estimates and make more accurate extrapolations of sea-level rise, also beyond 2100.

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