We’ve made more room for water since the ’90s, and now it’s paying off

Are these projects proving themselves now?

Yes, experts say. Take the village of Borgarene near Maastricht: it was flooded in 1995, but is now dry. So much has been done in the part of the Meuse between Maastricht and Maasbrecht, where the river forms the border with Belgium, says Harold van Wyveren, a water safety specialist at Rijkswaterstaat. “A lot of the soil on the banks has been excavated at over a dozen sites on a very long way, to make more room for water.” Canals were also dug in various places, now lowering the water level to one metre. “This really helps.”

Piers were also built around Borgarine, among other areas. Because of this, the village has now remained dry. “There you can see that he succeeded.”

Asselman is also optimistic about the benefit of all efforts, although the inconvenience cannot be prevented with such amounts of rain as last week. “But without Meuse Works, many villages along the Meuse would have been flooded, perhaps even deeper than they were in 1993 and 1995.”

How long are we safe with this?

Meuse’s works were not yet completed; The project is due for completion in 2027. According to Rijkswaterstaat, for example, a secondary canal will be built near Maasband and gravel will also be mined from Meuse for the time being to give the water more space.

Until then, sitting is not an option, warns Jeroen Ayers, professor of climate and water hazards at the University of Victoria. Since severe weather will happen more often, solutions need to be thought of more broadly “on the drawing board”. “You can store and collect more water locally, or protect critical infrastructure better and build less in vulnerable areas. Ultimately, fewer surfaces need to be paved so that the ground can absorb water. All of this has to happen eventually.”

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Very large rivers are processed, what about Geul and Roer?

The measures taken on rivers such as the Maas and the Rhine have not been taken for the rivers that have overflowed their banks in recent days, such as the Gaul in Valkenburg. The question is what can be done there, says Deltares expert Asselman. “The situation is really different in Valkenburg than in Burgaren, for example.”

For example, Valkenburg is less extensive and Geul flows through the city center, rather than around it. The High Dam is not an obvious choice there. “It was easier to achieve this along the Maas River.”

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