Delta Works

Year:1997

Duration:50 years

Cost:$7bn

Country: Netherlands

What did this project achieve?

Design and build large scale works to stop lowlands flooding

The Delta Works is a series of construction projects in the south west of the Netherlands to protect from the sea a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers.

The aim was to shorten the Dutch coastline to reduce the number of dykes that had to be raised when flood threatened. The building of the Delta Works was such an enormous project, that it was sometimes referred to as the 'eighth wonder of the world'.

An aerial shot of the delta works hints at their massive scale.  <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oosterscheldekering_lucht_2.JPG" target="_blank">Wikipedia</a>

An aerial shot of the delta works hints at their massive scale. Wikipedia

Difference the project has made

The South Holland coast region is home to approximately 4 million people who live below normal sea level. The loss of human life in a major flood here can be immense because there is typically with North Sea storms very little warning time.

Large scale evacuations aren’t a realistic option as there are so many people and the floods would spread so far over the flat landscape.

After a catastrophic North Sea flood in February 1953 which killed 1,835 people and devastated 2,070km2 of land the Dutch government recognised the urgent need for a solution to flooding and coastal management.

The project ensured the protection of a huge area of land from salt water flooding and protected fresh water supplies for the region’s population. It also created many new roads and connecting bridges built over the dams and dikes, ending the historic isolation of some areas from the rest of the Netherlands and dramatically cutting journey times.

The project also contributed research to help solve the flooding problem. Instead of analysing past floods and building protection good enough to deal with those, the Delta Works commission pioneered a framework which could be used to calculate what future flood defences should look like to create a better protection for the country’s coastal areas. This framework is used by engineers all over the world today.

Although a number of nature reserves were lost, new nature reserves were created to replace them and the works have also created areas of recreational use such as the dry shores where locals and tourists walk, fish, ride horses and picnic.

How the work was done

The Dutch Department of Waterways and Public Works chose to complete the first set of works in a highly logical order, starting from the smallest and building towards the largest, and from the simplest to the most complicated. This way the engineers learned as much as possible during the construction process.

The largest of the Delta Works – the Oosterscheldedam – is a huge storm surge barrier and the biggest in the world. Its doors close only in extreme weather conditions. This means that the unique salt water environment where mussel and oyster cultivation is a traditional industry is protected and the tides stay the same for the conservation of the wildlife.

This mammoth construction is made up of 65 prefabricated concrete pillars with 62 steel slides in between. To strengthen the soil the barrier was placed on, gravel filled synthetic mats were used.

“​‌

The ways of nature can be learned only by bitter experience or by scientific investigation. We have long trod the hard road of bitter experience and our eyes are now turned to the shorter and more promising path.

Johan van Veen

‘father’ of the Delta Works

Fascinating facts

The largest dam on the Delta Works is the Oosterscheldekering barrier at nearly 8km with 3km of open-close barrier.

The Oosterscheldekering has been fully closed 29 times since 1986

The construction of the new works shortened the length of total flood defences (dikes) by a huge 700km

People who made it happen

  • Engineer: Johan van Veen

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