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|The piers and slides of the Eastern Scheldt barrier in the province of Zeeland.|
With the official inauguration of the storm surge barrier in the Oosterschelde (the Eastern Scheldt river) on 4 October 1986, Queen Beatrix declared the Delta Plan works in the Netherlands completed. More than ten years later she did that again when she opened the last section of the Nieuwe Waterweg Dam on 10 May 1997. It doesn't matter how many times it needs to be said; one thing is for sure: The Netherlands has definitely tamed the power of the sea - or at least, that is what we like to hear from those who have in their charge the management and the overseeing of the dikes and dams in this country.
With 60% of its territory under the sea level, the Netherlands is world renowned for its Delta works - a series of construction projects designed to protect a large area of the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the destructive power of the sea. Bearing these facts in mind when I moved to the Netherlands, I thought that I had to pay a visit to the monumental sea barrier and see for myself this ingenious work of engineering.
This is why the main purpose of our holiday in the southern province of Zeeland was to stop at the Oosterscheldekering or Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier - the most impressive storm surging structure in the Netherlands.
|The Oosterschelde or Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier.|
The construction of this sea barrier cost an impressive total amount of 2.5 billion euros; but even more impressive is what it is supposed to have achieved: thanks to this monumental barrier the chances of having a destructive flood like the one that the country suffered in 1953, have gone down to one in every ... 4.000 years!
|Driving on the Oosterschelde barrier you can get a closer look at the piers and slides that make up the construction.|
The alternative plans for the Oosterschelde:Initially, this section of the Eastern Scheldt delta was to be closed with a regular dam that would completely block the sea. But even though safety was the top priority, there were serious concerns about the consequences that this kind of barrier would have on the ecosystem of the delta. The alternative then, was to build a barrier consisting of piers with slides that were to be kept open, but which could be closed if there was any risk of flood.
The cost of executing this plan as it was originally intended would have been astronomical and therefore, after much discussion in Parliament, it was finally decided that the best alternative was to build two auxiliary dams (the Philips dam and the Oester dam) to reduce the surface of the open barrier and, at the same time, allow for a better control of the tidal movement. The new plan also included a tide-free shipping route between Antwerp and the Rhine.
|Everything seem to be working properly when I "inspected" the Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier in 2008.|
Nature in the Oosterschelde:The sea/ landscape and wild life in the Oosterschelde is now quite unique with a rich variety of fish, water plants and algae. The reserve is also a favourite with an amazing number of birds that feed or hibernate on the land. All this wonderful natural environment would have been completely lost if the original plan to close the Eastern Scheldt had been carried out and also mussel and oyster farming would have been affected with disastrous economic conseequences for the entire region.
Fortunately, the alternative chosen for this amazing piece of engineering seems to have been a success; not only to keep the sea level under control, but also for the preservation of the natural habitat of hundreds of different species.
The Oosterschelde storm surge barrier is a must-see for anyone who wants to know what makes the Dutch people proud. Windmills, tulips, cheese and wooden shoes you can take back with you as souvenirs (you will find plenty of these at the Schiphol Duty Free shop and you can even order them online); but the water works and what they have done for the safety of the Dutch coast can only be truly appreciated in-situ. Open your eyes, take it in, enjoy ... and learn.
There is a fun way to get to know more about the Delta Works and sea life in Zeeland: the Delta park Neeltje-Jan, built on an artificial island on the Oosterschelde offers exhibitions and educational activities together with fun attractions like a sealion theatre, a hurricane simulator and many, many more interesting things to do or see, making it is an ideal place to spend time with the children. On their website you can find all the information necessary to plan your visit.
A plaque placed at one of the ends of the barrier reads in Dutch:
"Hier gaan over het tij, de wind, de maan en wij."
(Here rule over the tide, the wind, the moon and us)
You may also like to read: The light breeze of Zeeland and Visiting Zeeland I: Middelburg.