Learning from the Dutch: “Living With Water” Part II

By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund

In our previous post about Senator Landrieu’s Third Congressional Delegation to the Netherlands, Courtney Taylor from Environmental Defense Fund provided an overview of the trip, including where the delegation went, what they saw, and how they learned to “live with water.”  Many representatives from the non-profit sector attended, including staff from some of our coalition organizations.

The 4-day trip included site tours and meetings with Dutch officials and engineers.  In one of the sessions, the delegation learned how the Dutch had diverted a river, restored the neighboring ecosystem, and taught the locals how to work with the river – not against it – in the “Making Room for the River Project” in Biesbosch.  This project is directly applicable to our work in coastal Louisiana, where coastal erosion and sea level rise are threatening to wash away the region, and major diversion projects are necessary to rebuild a sustainable, working coast for current and future generations of Louisianans.  Learning from the Dutch’s successes (and failures), the delegation went home with a new knowledge of how people can live and work with water, whether it be the Rhine or Mississippi River.

Netherlands CODEL, Nov. 9 - 12, 2010 (photo credit: landrieu.senate.gov)

In addition to Courtney and Karla Raettig from the National Wildlife Federation, Dr. John Lopez from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) also made the trip across the Atlantic to travel and learn with Senator Landrieu.  John is a coastal scientist who has been working on coastal Louisiana restoration for years, and currently serves as Director of the Coastal Sustainability Program at LPBF.  Upon returning to New Orleans after the trip, John observed: “The Dutch have a complete top-to-bottom commitment to their economy and modern culture by providing a ‘continuous improvement’ mentality to their flood protection.”

But not everything the Dutch have done has been a success.  One example is the loss of fisheries and fisheries-based cultures in the Netherlands.  While they have worked hard to live with the river instead of against it, “It has come at a very high price to their natural environment, which has been nearly completely lost,” said Dr. Lopez.  We can learn from the Dutch in this regard, and work with fisheries and other local industries to develop a comprehensive restoration plan for the Mississippi River Delta.  A plan that incorporates environmental measures and the needs of local communities and industries will create a more robust and sustainable Louisiana coast.