Protecting New OrleansLouisiana officials to visit the Netherlands to learn Dutch flood protection methods

Published 15 April 2010

The Dutch are widely hailed as having the best investment in flood protection in the world; much of the country’s densely populated areas are below sea level, and after a storm struck in 1953 and flooded 80 percent of the Netherlands, the Dutch became even more serious about flood protection

Terrebonne, Louisiana’s top levee official will tour some of the world’s biggest and most-advanced flood-protection projects next month. Terrebonne levee director Reggie Dupre will head to the Netherlands with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), state lawmakers, and other coastal officials to study how the Dutch balance fighting flooding with protecting the environment.

The Daily Commet’s Nikki Buskey writes that the trip could also include some important traveling companions. Aides from Landrieu’s office said the senator has invited along Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Sutley has been overseeing the latest federal efforts to better coordinate and speed major coastal-restoration work in Louisiana.

“Dealing with environmental issues at the same time as trying to protect people is the main theme of this whole summit,” Dupre said. “Morganza is one of the first major flood-protection projects to marry the two. Who better to come along on this trip than representatives from Terrebonne?”

Morganza-to-the-Gulf, Terrebonne’s planned hurricane-protection project, is a series of levees, floodgates and a lock on the Houma Navigation Canal designed to be a more environmentally friendly flood-protection project. It will allow water to pass through parts of the levee system via environmental structures to keep wetland basins intact, officials say.

The Terrebonne Levee Board approved Dupre’s participation in this year’s trip at their 5 April meeting. The Levee Board will pay Dupre’s plane fare, about $1,200, and other expenses.

The trip, scheduled from 30 May to 3 June, is Landrieu’s third aimed at taking Louisiana flood-protection experts, scientists and government officials to study the projects and structures in the Netherlands. “Flood protection is truly a matter of survival for their entire country,” Dupre said. Taking such trips “keeps us in the forefront of the issues.”

The Dutch are widely hailed as having the best investment in flood protection in the world, said Windell Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, who previously traveled to the Netherlands for a conference on flood protection and to view projects.

Much of the country’s densely populated areas are below sea level. After a storm struck in 1953 and flooded 80 percent of the Netherlands, Curole said, the Dutch got “very serious about flood protection.” “They realized it’s critical for their survival,” Curole said.

This year’s trip will include a visit to Deltares, an independent research institute specializing in coastal- and flood-protection issues that is successfully coordinated government, academic, and private engineers, according to Landrieu’s aides.

They will also visit Zeeland, a state in the Netherlands, to tour their flood-protection barriers, levees, and floodgates, among other structures, and talk with Dutch government officials to compare notes.

Curole said there are good lessons Louisiana can learn from the Netherlands, but there are some crucial differences between the two that make major flood protection a difficult political battle in the United States. “A lot of people ask, ‘Why can’t we do what they do?’” Curole said.

While the Netherlands is a country about the same size as south Louisiana, he said, most of their population faces the threat of flooding, while only a fraction of Louisiana residents face the same threat. “But it’s good to get out there and see the levees, walk on the levees, and see when you have a total commitment what you can do,” Curole said. “We still lag on total commitment here in Louisiana.”

If there is one lesson to take away from the Netherlands, Curole said, it is what can be accomplished with “the will to do the right thing.”