My time here has been focused on learning what we can take away from the Dutch in terms of water management expertise. What is it, you ask? I know the suspense must be killing you, so I’ll give away part of my discovery:
The Dutch find incredibly creative and simple ways to communicate important messages to the masses. They put a lot of time and effort into public outreach and communication, which from my observation over the past 8 months, has had a very powerful effect on increasing understanding and building support for government (and other) actions.
What could it mean for the United States?
In general the Netherlands is not quite such a litigious society as the United States, so they spend less time in the court room. But they do, as a culture, strive for something called “overeenstemming”, or as we call it, consensus. This takes its time as well. I often wonder in the United States, whether our advocates, project developers, governments, scientists, and engineers could put more time and efforts into public outreach, (see great examples below), especially with controversial topics, perhaps we would find ourselves in more agreement and less at a standoff– At least we might have less anxiety over the unknowns, (be more open-minded as a result), and we could have a more-focused awareness and discussion on what it would really mean to:
- expand a bypass
- designate an emergency overflow area
- restore a floodplain
- reinforce levees in place
- update building codes behind dikes
- re-operate dams, or
- (gasp) even demonstrate conveyance options in/around/under/through/upside-down/inside-out of the California Bay-Delta.
In the Netherlands, it is not uncommon to find large nice posters plastered all over public works projects to explain to the public why it is their train station is under construction yet again. I rarely hear people cursing the delays (or at least significantly less than in the United States) as a result of it because they understand what the long-term goal is. You also commonly see billboards depicting the future of Amsterdam’s harbor (and how the people will be a part of it!).
I just came across the following and feel compelled to share: At one minute-long each, hydrologists, engineers, and animators provide even children a “Primary school” understanding on the “Room for the River” program. These animations explain the (rather) complicated hydraulic processes of giving room to river with the story of the Sheep Sieb (Schaap Sieb). Other links on the site also show how the Dutch are trying to involve young adults in water management early on. I think these approaches are useful beyond targeting young people, however. Such concepts for a video, unmuddeled by opinion or technical jargon, can really help explain to stakeholders (including educated decision-makers) what we all mean when we’re talking about such things.
I’ve embedded a few of these (what I believe to be) fantastic videos here. You do not need to know Dutch to appreciate them. But feel free to check out the site for the complete set.
Key words : “dijk”= dike/levee “overstroming”= flood. “Hoogwater”= high water.
Lowering the groins
For more, check out the Room for the River website