Dutch, US planners and scientists brainstorm over sea level rise

02/22/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Florida and the Netherlands aren’t exactly birds of a feather, but when it comes to sea level rise, some planners think the Sunshine State has a lot to learn from the country. This week at the University of South Florida, Dutch and US experts are brainstorming ways to deal with encroaching waters. It’s a topic most familiar to the Dutch, who live on a land that’s largely below sea level. Keynote speaker Steven Seibert of the nonpartisan think tank Collins Center for Public Policy said this isn’t the first time the Dutch have helped out Americans.

Daniel Yeh, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at USF, said whether one wants to believe it, climate change is occurring.

Yeh said as the ocean creeps further inland, some of its impacts will be irreversible.

Keynote speaker Steven Seibert said the said, much like the Dutch, Floridians may have to adapt to altered landscapes instead of the typical response of rebuilding.

The annual event is called Resilient Tampa Bay. Seibert said resiliency is a key component to self-governance.

Anyone can see how vulnerable the Tampa Bay area is to flooding after large storms. As the sea level continues to rise, many scientists expect flooding to get more frequent and more intense. Impacts from storm surge would be even more devastating for the coastal areas where most Floridians dwell. It’s a scenario the Dutch know well. More than half the country either exists below sea level or is in a spot extremely vulnerable to flooding. Dutch urban planner William Veerbeek is a fellow with the Flood Resilience Group.

He said the country also has to contend with two major rivers and the North Sea. After centuries of dealing with floods, he said, the Netherlands came up with a strategy of dealing with flooding that’s become iconic over the years.

Veerbeek said constructing dams, dikes and canals aren’t the only way to fight rising waters. He said adaptation strategies include things like floating homes and recreation areas that double as stormwater storage sites. The country’s Room for the River project, which has an expected completion year of 2015, is deepening floodplains, removing barriers, and creating bypasses to deal with floodwater in an especially prone area.

The question is whether political, economic, and social dynamics would leave any room for urban planners in the Sunshine State to apply such concepts. During a panel discussion, Mark House, Tampa managing director with the developer Beck Group, said it’s possible, though economic conditions would have to be right. The Netherlands’ Room for the River Project is costing an estimated 2.2 billion Euro, about three billion US dollars.

Resilient Tampa Bay takes place through tomorrow at USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions in Tampa. Organizers hope to incorporate the outcome of their discussions into local and regional planning policies, and may even assemble a regional task force on resiliency.

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