The Dutch Queen’s visit to Houston on Friday underscored the long-standing friendship between Texas and the Netherlands that grew out of their fight against a common enemy: flooding.
During a meeting with the mayor of Houston, Queen Maxima learned how the Netherlands worked with local authorities to mitigate the effects of flooding after the deadly devastation that Hurricane Harvey inflicted on the city in 2017. Harvey dropped over 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain in parts of Houston. The damage caused by the hurricane to Texas amounted to 125 billion dollars.
The Queen also met with state and federal officials and learned about how Dutch engineers and scientists are helping Texas develop what could be the world’s largest storm surge barrier. The coastal barrier system in nearby Galveston, discussed after Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast of Texas in 2008, 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 can save the economy and the environment, “but also (produce) knowledge that really helps the rest of the world.”
“We need you so thank you so much and I hope you continue this fantastic collaboration,” she said.
Texas and the Netherlands are natural partners in flood control.
A view from the FEMA’s Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Team 2 (VA-TF2) scouring the Houston area for survivors of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city, often floods because it doesn’t have enough infrastructure to handle heavy rains. The development of the territory has drastically reduced the natural wetlands that previously absorbed stormwater runoff. Each hurricane season, the Texas Gulf Coast faces potentially destructive storms. Storm surges caused by hurricanes could pose a risk of flooding the Houston Ship Channel, which houses 40 percent of the country’s petrochemical industry.
The Netherlands is a world leader in flood control design and initiatives. About 26 percent of the 17 million people live below sea level, and the country has spent billions of dollars building a system of levees, dams and storm surge barriers.
Michael Braden, chief of megaprojects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston County, said his agency’s efforts to create a system of barriers along the Gulf Coast in Texas would not be what they are today without the help of the Dutch.
The barrier system, which is borrowed from a similar project called Ike Dyke and was first proposed by a Galveston professor, is expected to receive final congressional approval shortly before being sent to President Joe Biden for signature. Funding for the nearly $31 billion project, which could take up to 20 years to build, must be approved separately.
“With the coastal project, we are solving a regional problem, but what we have learned from design and construction will ultimately be needed by coastal communities around the world,” Braden said.
Dutch and US officials said Friday their flood control efforts have become more important as global warming has made heavy rains and stronger hurricanes more frequent.
A United Nations report released in March warned that states along the Gulf of Mexico, including Texas, are under serious threat from rising sea levels, fisheries collapse 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 to help reduce water runoff and neighborhood resiliency plans, will soon be implemented.
“But we want our community to not only respond and recover, but also grow and prosper, moving forward after recovery. We don’t want to build back. To restore means to build on failure. We want to move forward,” Turner said.
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