A visit to Houston on Friday by the Dutch queen highlighted a long friendship between Texas and the Netherlands that grew from their fight against a mutual enemy: flooding.
While meeting with Houston’s mayor, Queen Maxima learned how the Netherlands has worked with local officials on efforts to mitigate the impact of flooding following the deadly destruction that Hurricane Harvey wreaked on 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 heard about how Dutch engineers and academics have been helping Texas in the development of what could be the largest storm surge barrier in the world. The coastal barrier system in nearby Galveston, which has been in discussion since Hurricane Ike in 2008 battered the Texas Gulf Coast, 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’ strategies for flood mitigation could preserve 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 continue this fantastic cooperation,” she said.
Texas and the Netherlands are natural partners in the fight against flooding.
View from FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Virginia Task Force Two (VA-TF2) searching neighborhoods inside Houston for survivors after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, floods frequently because it doesn’t have sufficient infrastructure to handle heavy rain. Development of the area has sharply reduced the natural wetlands that previously soaked up storm water runoff. Every hurricane season, the Texas Gulf Coast faces potentially devastating storms. Hurricane-fueled storm surges can pose a flooding danger to the Houston Ship Channel, which is home to 40 percent of the nation’s petrochemical industry.
The Netherlands is a global leader in flood-management design and initiatives. About 26 percent of its 17 million people live below sea level and the country has spent billions of dollars to build a system of dams, levees and storm surge barriers.
Michael Braden, chief of the mega-project division with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, said his agency’s efforts to build the barrier system along the Texas Gulf Coast would not be where they are today without help from the Dutch.
The barrier system, which borrows from a similar project nicknamed the “Ike Dike” and was first proposed by a Galveston professor, is expected to soon get final approval by Congress before being forwarded to President Joe Biden for his signature. Funding for the nearly $31 billion project, which could take up to 20 years to build, would have to be approved separately.
“We’re addressing a regional issue here with the coastal project, but the things we learn in the design and the construction will eventually be needed by coastal communities all around the world,” Braden said.
Dutch and U.S. officials said Friday that their efforts to tackle flooding have become more important because global warming has made torrential rainfall and stronger hurricanes more common.
A United Nations report released in March warned that states along the Gulf of Mexico, including Texas, are under serious threat 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 prairie conservation efforts that will help reduce water runoff and neighborhood resilience plans, will soon be implemented.
“But we want our community not only to respond and to recover but to grow and to thrive, to build forward from recovery. We don’t want to build back. Building back is building for failure. We want to build forward,” Turner said.
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