Delta Works

The Delta Works (Dutch: Deltawerken) are a series of constructions built between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands, to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers. Along with the Zuiderzee Works, they have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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The estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt have been subject to flooding for centuries. After construction of the Afsluitdijk in the north of the country completed in 1933, the Netherlands started studying the damming of the Rhine-Meuse Delta. Plans were developed to turn the delta into a group of freshwater lakes. New dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers would be built to shorten the coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. Due to indecision and World War II, little progress was made. In 1950 two small estuary mouths, the Brielse Gat near Brielle and the Botlek near Vlaardingen were dammed. Then the flood of 1953 (Watersnoodramp) took place. In the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 and the morning of 1 February 1953, a heavy storm caused a storm tide. Nearly 2,000 people died in the flood and there was widespread property damage, mostly in the province of Zeeland.

As a result, the Delta Works Commission was installed to research the causes and develop measures to prevent such disasters in future. They revised some of the old plans and came up with the Deltaplan. The plan consisted of blocking the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, the Haringvliet and the Grevelingen. This reduced the length of the dikes exposed to the sea by 700 km (430 mi). The mouths of the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Westerschelde were to remain open because these were used as important shipping routes to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The dikes along these waterways were to be heightened and strengthened. New road and waterway instructure would be built alongside the Deltaworks to stimulate the economy of Zeeland and improve the connection between the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Plans for a coastline construction had been suggested long before, and small steps had been taken, but it was the 1953 flood that led to the rapid development of the Delta Works. With the Delta Works in place, disastrous floods like the one in 1953 should occur no more than once every 4,000 years. In total, the Delta Works are the largest storm barrier in the world and have served as an example to many similar projects all over the world.

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