The Delta Works
Studies conducted in 1937 by Rijkswaterstaat (Department of Public Works), showed that safety in many parts of the Netherlands could not be guaranteed at times of storms and high sea levels. In the densely populated areas near the river mouths of the Rhine, the Meuse, and the Schelde, it proved very difficult to build new dikes or strengthen the original ones. The first solution was to close all the river mouths: the Western Schelde, the Eastern Schelde, the Haringvliet, and the Brouwershavense Gat. This proposal was christened 'the Deltaplan'. In 1950, the first river mouths of the Brieles' Gat and the Botlek were closed. The Brielse Maas became a freshwater basin. This not only made the area safer, but it also provided Voorne with a freshwater supply. The plan was to build the remaining dams in the following decades. Unfortunately though, the infamous flood of 1953 prevented this from happening. Nearly two thousand people died and more than 150,000 hectares of land were flooded. People soon became aware that something had to be done, and very, very quickly.
Twenty days after the flood of 1953, the Delta commission was inaugurated. The commission would give advice about the execution of the Deltaplan, that would, in the long run, increase the safety of the Delta area. Although safety was the number one priority, the seaways De Nieuwe Waterweg and the Western Schelde would have to stay open, because of the economic importance of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. In order to be able to build dams in the rivers' mouths, some auxiliary dams would first have to be built in the Zandkreek, the Krammer, the Grevelingen, and the Volkerak. These dams were known as 'compartment dams', since they would divide the large area of water into multiple compartments. In 1959, the Delta Law was passed, in order to organise the construction of the dams. The building of the 'Delta Works' was such an enormous project, that it was sometimes referred to as the 'eighth wonder of the world' - and not without good reason.
The first works
Haringvliet sluices and Brouwers dam
An enormous array of sluices was built in the mouth of the Haringvliet in order to drain off excess water from the river Rhine. The sluices are able to be opened during very cold winters, to prevent the tide from freezeing. This could be
The Eastern Schelde
Significance of the Delta Works
Secondly, the complete water balance of the Delta area was improved. Thanks to the construction of the major and auxiliary dams, the streams in this area were able to be manipulated more easily. Different types of sluices made it possible to allow fresh water in, or polluted or excess water out.
Thirdly, the construction of the Delta Works encouraged traffic between the many islands and peninsulas. Large parts of the province of Zeeland had literally been isolated for centuries. The building of the Zeeland Bridge together with a tunnel under the Westerscheldetunnel (2003), also helped increase mobility.
Lastly, the Delta Works have influenced new developments in the areas of nature and recreation. Understandably, a number of nature reserves were irreparably damaged, but as compensation, new nature reserves have emerged at different sites. Nowadays, dry shores are sometimes used as recreational areas. Whether or not nature has benefited from the Delta Works will remain an unsolved debate. However, there is no doubt over the need for durable water management, in which safety, prosperity, and nature are taken into account.
In addition to the construction of new dams and barriers, at several places, existing dams had to be heightened. This was especially the fact in the western parts of the islands (Walcheren, Schouwen, Goerree) and along the waterway of Rotterdam and the Western Schelde. The dikes needed reinforcement because they were not directly protected by the large works. It is a common misconception that the Delta Works were only built to