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Dutch expert informs Congress of Delta Works benefits

Aftermath hurricanes

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WASHINGTON, DC - Jan Hoogland, a retired General-Director of the Dutch Public Works (Rijkswaterstaat) recently was an expert witness at a hearing by the U.S. House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Representative John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN). From 1981 until 1997, Mr. Hoogland was in charge of developing flood protection policy.

The Dutch expert, together with nine U.S. witnesses testified at the hearing regarding the integration of hurricane, storm and flood protection, while meeting local objectives for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Hoogland, who characterized Rijkswaterstaat as ‘comparable to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,’ informed the subcommittee of ‘Flood Defense in the Netherlands - Lessons Learned from Dutch History’. In his message, Hoogland detailed the history and the importance of the Delta Works, started after the February 1, 1953 flood disaster, which had cost the lives of nearly 2,000 people and inundated much of the below-sea-level island-rich southwestern part of the Netherlands.

While financing the massive Delta Works of dikes, barriers and dams has been a national priority since 1953 with funds allocated by the Dutch central government, 1965 U.S. plans to increase the protection levels in Mississippi and Louisiana met with political controversy when some land-locked states did not want the federal government to pay for such improvements.

When the Rijkswaterstaat expert mentioned that the Dutch Delta Works took an investment of about $15 billion (recalculated in today’s costs), one Representative inquired whether a benefits-and-costs feasibility study had been done. Mr. Hoogland gave a simple answer: ‘Human life can not be measured in money’.

In the U.S. under the Flood Control Act of 1936, the benefits that are calculated by the Corps of Engineers are primarily ones that protect property. The cost to protect human life is not included because it is assumed that people are able to get out of the way of a hurricane.

In its brief, the Subcommittee touched as well on the implications of a national flood control policy. If Congress makes the policy decision to provide an increased level of hurricane protection for New Orleans, without regard to any benefit-cost analysis, this level then could be demanded by other vulnerable communities across the country.

One of the nine U.S. witnesses, Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock, Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commended the Dutch. Calling them the ‘most authorative dike builders in the world,’ he again lauded the ‘fantastic gesture’ of the Dutch to dispatch engineers and pumping equipment to New Orleans.