Tampa Bay planners dialog with Dutch to learn their approach to climate change

06/12/09 Seán Kinane
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The effects of climate change on Florida are likely to include rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes. These will all increase the future risk of flooding around the Tampa Bay region’s low-lying geography. To get ideas about how to mitigate and adapt to a flood-prone future, planners and engineers have begun a dialog with a country that has a history of overcoming similar challenges.

Fifty-five percent of land in The Netherlands is below sea level, and the northern European country has more than 250 miles of coastline. For centuries, the Dutch have planned ahead to protect low-lying areas and even reclaim land from the sea.

On Friday at the University of South Florida, The Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions hosted a seminar, “The Dutch Approach to Climate Change: A Dialog with Tampa Bay.” USF Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning Graham Tobin, calls it “not only academically stimulating, but of course, profoundly important for society at large.”

“How we respond now that is going to dictate what happens to us in the future. As far as sea level changes, the Netherlands is way ahead of most nations.”

The Netherlands has built a series of dikes, or levees, to hold back the sea, as well as some hard structures that can be opened and closed as needed. That includes a structure protecting the city of Rotterdam, which has the second largest port in the world. Ivo Demmers is director of business development with the Netherlands Water Partnership.

Several presenters stressed that any solutions to protect Florida from the effects of climate change must have a comprehensive planning component and a cultural awareness of potential hazards. Demmers suggests that Floridians might want to reexamine how much construction we allow on our beaches.

Shawn College is an executive planner with the Hillsborough Planning Commission. He hopes to learn more about how Dutch engineering has held back the sea. College says it’s important for Florida to consider all solutions.

“As sea level rise begins to occur … there are going to be decisions that are going to be made in the future as to whether we need to coastally armor some of these areas or not.”

In the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, levees failed, flooding parts of New Orleans. Many engineers and environmentalists suggest that some energy from the storm’s surge could have been reduced if miles of wetlands had not been destroyed before the hurricane. Linda Mathies is the Netherlands Water Partnership liaison officer to Florida. As an alternative to only constructing levees, Mathies advocates a concept called ‘building with nature.’

“It’s using natural features such as marshlands … to slow down the storm surge and attenuate the wave energy associated with these tropical storms and hurricanes that we have over here.”

One thing the Dutch have done is to learn to live with water. For example, in floodplains, building houses that can float and reintroduce water into cityscapes. Erica Williams, a Master’s student in the School of Architecture and Community Design at USF, says that Florida cities such as Key West could consider a similar approach.

Availability of drinking water is also a concern for a future affected by climate change, according to Southwest Florida Water Management District senior planner, Jason Mickel. Climate change could affect the region’s water supply because of changes in precipitation, and through sea level rise affecting their facilities and increasing saltwater intrusion.

Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF

Netherlands Water Partnership



Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission

Netherlands Consulate-General in Miami


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