Dutch Queen learns about flood control during visit to Houston

HOUSTON– A visit to Houston on Friday by the Queen of the Netherlands highlighted a long friendship between Texas and the Netherlands that grew out of their fight against a common enemy: flooding.

During her meeting with the Mayor of Houston, Queen Maxima learned how the Netherlands worked with local authorities on efforts to mitigate the impact of flooding following the deadly destruction that Hurricane Harvey wrought. caused the city in 2017. Harvey dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain on parts of the Houston area. The storm caused $125 billion in damage in Texas.

The Queen also met with state and federal officials and learned how Dutch engineers and scholars helped Texas develop what could be the world’s largest storm surge barrier. The coastal barrier system in nearby Galveston, which has been under discussion since Hurricane Ike in 2008 hit the Gulf Coast of Texas, was inspired by structures in the Netherlands.

Queen Maxima, who also visited the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, this week, said she was impressed that the two countries’ flood mitigation strategies could save the economy and the environment, “but also (produce) knowledge to actually help the rest of the world.”

“We need you, so thank you very much and I hope you will continue this fantastic cooperation,” she said.

Texas and the Netherlands are natural partners in flood control.

Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, is frequently flooded as it lacks sufficient infrastructure to cope with heavy rains. Development of the area has greatly reduced the natural wetlands that previously absorbed stormwater runoff. Every hurricane season, the Gulf Coast of Texas faces potentially devastating storms. Hurricane-fueled storm surges can pose a flooding hazard to the Houston Ship Channel, home to 40% of the nation’s petrochemical industry.

The Netherlands is a world leader in flood management design and initiatives. About 26% of its 17 million people live below sea level and the country has spent billions of dollars building a system of dams, levees and storm surge barriers.

Michael Braden, head of the US Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District’s megaprojects division, said his agency’s efforts to build the barrier system along the Texas Gulf Coast would not be where they are today. today without the help of the Dutch.

The barrier system, which borrows from a similar project dubbed the “Ike Dike” and was first proposed by a Galveston professor, is expected to gain final congressional approval soon before being forwarded to President Joe Biden to his signature. Funding for the nearly $31 billion project, which could take up to 20 years to build, is expected to be approved separately.

“We’re addressing a regional problem here with the coastal project, but the things we learn in design and construction will eventually be needed by coastal communities around the world,” Braden said.

Dutch and U.S. officials said Friday their flood control efforts have become more important because global warming has made torrential rains and stronger hurricanes more frequent.

A United Nations report released in March warned that states along the Gulf of Mexico, including Texas, are at grave risk from rising seas, collapsing fisheries and toxic tides due to climate change.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said many of the flood mitigation strategies that have been developed with the help of the city’s Dutch partners, including grassland conservation efforts that will help reduce runoff from water and neighborhood resilience plans, will soon be implemented.

“But we want our community to not just respond and recover, but grow and thrive, to move forward from recovery. We don’t want to rebuild. To rebuild is to build for failure. We want to move forward,” Turner said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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