Roland realized that he knew far more about the 1953 flood in Holland than the 2005 Katrina flood in New Orleans. Of course he was born and raised in Holland so could identify very well with the culture, history, and language of Holland. He probably has preconceived ideas which he may not be aware of. As he delved into reviewing the 1953 flood, he realized that he could identify very easily with the different aspects, even if in unwritten form. He could not do that with the Katrina flood details. Would he have to go back even to the days of slavery to get a picture of the history in context with that flood? Would he give more credence to what happened in 1953 than the 2005 Katrina flood?

If Roland had lived all his life just in Holland that might have been the case, but as a youth he lived in Indonesia and Venezuela. He finished high school and college back in Holland and spent several years in Bangladesh as an engineer. It is also a delta like Holland and Alabama. Roland had a pretty good idea how to balance the consequences of flooding and the cultural plus historical differences.

     Bangladesh is a country riddled with side arms of the  Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers. 
                                  It is low-lying and thus very accessible to flooding.

When we read books about certain states and countries, or subjects, we assume the author is familiar with those areas geographically and historically, which may not necessarily be true. An author can write much more elaborate about areas or subjects he or she knows very well, but leave out details when writing about other areas on the same subject. Thus it might appear that one area is more attractive or better prepared for conditions such as flooding, just from the description. That in turn can result in cynicism, and an “us” and “them” way of thinking. “We” can do it better than “they”.

The Dutch knew very well where the weak spots were, in 1953. They were much more concerned about Rotterdam getting flooded, than The Hague or Amsterdam. They had predictions as to which dikes could break and not worry about it because the water had to go somewhere, and which were the important dikes to save. Same with the New Orleans flood. The National Geographic ran an article about two years before  the flood, suggesting what could happen and where, in the event of a hurricane. It happened exactly as predicted! (Swain, Christopher. "Then & There." National Geographic Adventure (September 2002), 42-3.)

Each of us comes with a set of assumptions and prejudices, some of which we may not be aware. From there the challenge when comparing topics among different countries. Who is the author? What might he / she favor in one country over another?

  Can you relate to something you read and assumed the author had a balanced view point?


Green portions were flooded  (from: de Deltawerken by Hilde de Haan and Ids Haagsma)

Interesting how certain dates or weather patterns will trigger our minds towards the same subject. For example: 9/11 is all I need to say and everyone will know what I’m talking about. Or Katrina, and you all will know I’m talking about the 2005 flood in New Orleans.

1953 is another such trigger, but not for Americans. After Roland had been on vacation in New Orleans and kind of cynically concluded that much of the flooding could either have been contained or construction of subdivisions should not have taken place in certain areas in the first place, he was wondering how the flood in Holland, in 1953 could have been better contained. In other words, Roland kind of presumed that the Dutch were much better at containing the water threats than the Americans. He started with 1953, a date to which every Dutchman can relate, either from experience or the history books in school if he or she did not exist yet in 1953.

Roland himself was about eight years old when that flood on February 1, 1953 took place, but he did not live in Holland at that time. His family had just moved to Venezuela, where his dad was assigned to help direct making Heineken beer. When his family heard about the flood, it was dramatic, but Roland could not exactly visualize it.

After returning to Holland where Roland finished high school and got his engineering degree in water management, specifically about dam construction, he got a better idea about that fateful February 1, 1953 flood. After his vacation to New Orleans recently, he realized that he could relate much better to the 1953 flood, because it was in the country where he was born and raised part of his life; maybe a bit prejudiced? 

New Orleans is also at the mouth of a delta, the Mississippi, just as most of Holland forms the delta of the Rhine and Maas rivers. Roland knew the history of this Dutch delta from his school days. That history goes back to the 1200’s. Since then, documentation about water management had become pretty good. The urgency to maintain control of water is much higher in Holland than around the Mississippi river, because without the dikes and dunes 50% of the country would be under water. Amsterdam would not even exist. Rotterdam would never have been the largest harbor in the world between 1964-2004. About 65% of the Dutch population lives in that below-sea-level area of the country.

Much of the flooded area from Katrina was inhabited for a large part by the poorer black population and only involved a small % of the state. Roland realized that floods were not just a matter of engineering to prevent or manage them, but included political, historical, economic, and cultural issues as well. 

No dikes, no Amsterdam

About half of Holland lies below the sea level. Cities like Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Volendam, and many more would not exist. That is where more than half of the Dutch population lives!

Rotterdam served as the largest port in the world for 42-years between 1962 and 2004 before it was surpassed by Singapore and Shanghai, in that order. The Rotterdam port is the largest port in the whole of Europe. (AUGUST 11, 2011 BY MI NEWS NETWORK)

After Roland returned from New Orleans, he was determined to go back in history and see how the Dutch fared all those years. Since 1200, the documentation about flooding became more reliable. Every history book mentions the St Elizabeth flood of Nov.18-19, 1421 which formed the Biesbosch; a miriad of water flows among the little islands formed where the Rhine and Maas rivers come together before it all flows out to sea. More floods followed in 1530, 1570, 1574 when dikes were purposely broken to keep the Spaniards from reaching Leiden. In 1775 another one, which created describing meteorological factors in connection with the flood. Others in 1808, 1825, 1894, 1906, 1916, 1944 when Walcheren was bombarded, and the latest flood in 1953.
(from: of Dikes and Windmills, by Peter Spier)

Roland finally got the whole story together about the moon and its correlation to the tides. He knew the basics but did not realize the total effect it had on the Dutch fight against the water. Every 24 hours and 50 minutes the sea level rises and recedes twice into high tide and low tide. This is influenced by the magnetic force of the sun, but even more so by that of the moon. This is the strongest with full moon and new moon, when the sun and the moon are in alignment, and pull simultaneously so high tide is extremely high. That is why there is an extreme high tide and extreme low tide every 14 days. Even the tide differences vary by location. Thus the difference between high tide and low tide in the South-West can be as much as 9 ft., while in the North (Den Helder) it is only 3 ft. It all depends on how much “space” / how deep it is, for water to go. Also the wind can influence the water levels independent from the tides. A Wester storm can really make the water go higher and an East wind will do the opposite.

And that is what happened that fateful day of February 1, 1953!

Roland was almost 9 years old, then, and had left Holland with his family to live in Venezuela, so age plus distance made it difficult for him to visualize the extend of damage done. It was not until the 1970’s when Roland became part of the solution as an engineer fresh out of college, assisting with the Delta Plan to strengthen the dam and dike system in Zeeland and Zuid-Holland provinces, that he started to see the effect. 

Pisek, Czech Republic and Folsom Lake, California

   In Pisek, I would take walks around town. Each time was a joy, even if it was the same route as previous. I would go down to the river from our apartment on Velké Námēstí and turn along the  Otava river, just before the old bridge; the oldest stone bridge in Czech, and walk along the river on one side and the castle wall on the other side. At the end I would run into the electric generator building.

Písek was the first town in the Czech lands to have permanent electric street lighting. It was installed by the Czech electrotechnician, František Křižík, on 23 June, 1887, who lit several arc lamps in the town centre. A year later, the street lighting was extended and the provisional traction engine drive was replaced with a power plant (the first in the Czech lands) built by the citizens in an old watermill on the Otava River. Dynamos for power production were first driven by a waterwheel, which was replaced with two Francis turbines in 1901. These turbines were reconstructed in 1994, old technical equipment was brought back into operation, and the power plant now generates electricity again. In 1997, a small museum dedicated to street lighting in Písek was opened here, documenting the history of power generation in Písek and showing old power generation equipment in operation. (Official portal of the town of Pisek)

    František Křižík was a contemporary of Thomas Edison and competed with him as to who would first invent the light bulb. November 1879, Edison officially patented his light bulb. 

     The opening on the left is a little tunnel which gets you to the other side of the mill. As you come out on the other side you can hear the humming of the belt which drives the generator via the turbines.

This picture is taken from the opposite side of the river. You can barely see the “dam” in front, built to redirect the water to the opposite side of the river, to feed the power plant. 

  All throughout South-West Czech, towns by rivers have these power plants. So, what does that have to do with Folsom Lake? Why didn’t they build a higher dam in Pisek?
The land behind Pisek is pretty flat, so there is no way taller dams are possible, but by each town having its own power plant every bit of water flowing down-stream can be used. Folsom Lake is not that different, other than that it is bigger, but water still has to flow through the turbines to generate electricity.

On this picture you can see how the water is funneled into the power plant on the upper part of the river.

Compare this to Folsom Lake (1955) north of Sacramento, California. It is a much higher dam, but very dependent on precipitation which has been lacking for the last four years. It performs the same function: generating electricity for Sacramento. Because of the elevation difference, the dam could be built higher. Besides electricity, adequate amounts of water are released to keep salt water from the San Fransisco Bay to seep inland into the delta, when it is high tide. It also provides water for Sacramento. Now the lake is almost empty.

A full lake on the top, and how it looks now (November 2015) below, after 4 years of drought.

Hundreds of people headed out to Folsom Lake to see ruins from the old Mormon Island settlement.

Mormon Island thrived during mining years with as many as 2,500 people, complete with four hotels, a school and seven saloons, according to some historical accounts.

According to the California Department of Water Resources, Folsom Lake has about 168,000 acre feet (1 acre foot = 1,233 cubic meter (m³)) at the moment, about 17 percent of capacity and only about a third of the typical average storage of 502,146 acre feet. A year ago, the reservoir had just under 556,000 acre feet stored.  Brian Hickey/KCRA

The Dead Sea

Our Dutch engineer, who visited New Orleans, has a name: Roland Winter. Roland got his engineering degree from Delft University in Holland. Delft University is very well known and respected in Europe and really all over the world. It is an engineering school with numerous venues of study. Water management is probably one of the most prominent areas, and that is what Roland did. His study had to do with dike construction. After his studies, he worked with the Delta werken team for a year or so. The Delta Works (in English) project jumped out after the 1953 flood in South-Western Holland. The ideas were not new, but that flood sped up the process. Basically, instead of strengthening every dike around each island of the provinces Zeeland and Zuid Holland, the islands were connected with dams on the ocean side, and the water behind those dams, controlled.

Then Roland joined an engineering company, which dealt with dike and dam construction. He was involved in various projects but a big project on the Dead Sea in Israel became his long-term responsibility. The Dead Sea has a very high salt concentration, but also is rich in potassium, which is used primarily in fertilizers. To win salt, was not economical. That is more economical in places like the San Fransisco Bay, where you can see the salt beckons from the air, as the plane approaches San Fransisco airport.

"A process is proposed for the recovery of potassium from brines by precipitation as potassium perchlorate, followed by conversion to potassium chloride by liquid anion exchange with a tertiary amine in the form of its hydrochloride. Regeneration of the amine salt is effected by means of lime and hydrochloric acid. The process was tested on Dead Sea brine, containing 13 g/l KCl. Precipitation at 30 °C gave a 40% yield of potassium, cooling to 0 °C increased the yield to over 80%. The anion exchanger used was the hydrochloride of trioctylamine dissolved in toluene; this performed satisfactorily and phase separation was easy. A separation factor of 130 was obtained for the ClO4/Cl separation. Regeneration of the amine was tested with various bases."  (The recovery of potassium chloride from Dead Sea brines by precipitation and solvent extraction   J.A Epstein,  D Altaras, E.M Feist, J Rosenzweig   Copyright © 1975 Published by Elsevier B.V.)

In Israel, the salt beckons are just that, but the process of extracting potassium is attractive. So, what to do with the salt? It is just left after the water, that is pumped into the beckons, evaporates. This means that the dikes around the beckons need to be raised every 7-8 years, and that was Roland’s job to design how much higher they should become. Also, because the Dead Sea level is lowering, the water got further and further away from the pumps, so they had to be relocated closer to the water. That also was Roland’s responsibility to figure out for the contractors. Every 4-5 years Roland would go down to Israel for a month or so to evaluate the situation, take the measurements, then redesign the new dike elevation. He did this for his whole career, besides smaller projects in between.

Delta’s: how they influence lives and culture

A Dutch engineer visited New Orleans on a vacation. Being involved with water projects in Holland and Israel, he was curious how people in and around New Orleans had dealt with “hurricane Katrina” and the consequences.

Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. When the storm made landfall, it had a Category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale–it brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour–and stretched some 400 miles across. The storm itself did a great deal of damage, but its aftermath was catastrophic. Levee breaches led to massive flooding, and many people charged that the federal government was slow to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage.

New Orleans was at particular risk. Though about half the city actually lies above sea level, its average elevation is about six feet below sea level–and it is completely surrounded by water. Over the course of the 20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers had built a system of levees and seawalls to keep the city from flooding. The levees along the Mississippi River were strong and sturdy, but the ones built to hold back Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the waterlogged swamps and marshes to the city’s east and west were much less reliable. Even before the storm, officials worried that those levees, jerry-built atop sandy, porous, erodible soil, might not withstand a massive storm surge. Neighborhoods that sat below sea level, many of which housed the city’s poorest and most vulnerable people, were at great risk of flooding.  (from: HISTORY article, "New Orleans after 10 years.")

The Dutch engineer traveled the area, observing the dikes, dams, and water management projects in the area. He noticed that a lot of the damage could have been prevented, and a bit of his Dutch pride about how water management is handled different in Holland, kicked in. After all, Holland was also a delta of the Rhine and Maas rivers! He wondered why a lot of houses were built in marginally protected areas of the delta. He wondered if technology about water management was more advanced in Holland.
Did You Know?
During the past century, hurricanes have flooded New Orleans six times: in 1915, 1940, 1947, 1965, 1969 and 2005.

       Our Dutch engineer became more interested in the “why’s” of flooding, because he realized that American and Dutch technologically about water management were not that different. Engineers in both countries have a good idea of the conditions and risks that exist at any time. Didn’t they manage to not have such a high density populated, or expensive businesses, in flood prone areas in Holland? He would try to find that out after his return to Holland, from vacation.


Language, culture, and floods

We had taken a language learning course before going to the Czech Republic. In the course the challenge was: “to learn a new language like a child”. This was not entirely possible, like we learned our native language, but in the adult world, language is taught like a subject together with science, math and history. Our teachers disagreed with that concept. You learn a language to communicate the same thing in a different way than your native tongue. It is not strictly language. You have to learn the cultural setting in which the language is used, as well.

With this knowledge we went to Pisek, Czech Republic. Of course, Czech is all we heard around us, most of which we could not understand. Most of the people we came there to serve, were at English camp that first week, so we were pretty well on our own. The second week we would get to visit the camp for a day.  

It had been raining a lot, which is common in July and August. We also had some nice days, so we had no concept of how much rain had already fallen. Pisek lays on the Otava River. The north shore rises pretty steep above the river, while the south shore is just flat land. One afternoon  it started to rain pretty heavy, into the evening. We went to town, shopping as best we could and were exhausted by evening hearing Czech all day. We went to bed, but around 2 am, heard people go by under our window at a steady stream. We also heard loudspeakers, but could not understand it. We lived in the center of town, on the main square with a lot of activity during the day, but at 2 am was unusual. It had pretty well stopped raining. We decided to get dressed and follow the crowd, gravitating across the square down to the river. There we found a pretty large crowd watching as the water rose. At several places, openings along the levy were boarded up, in case the water got that high. Well, it did get that high! We stood by the oldest stone bridge of Eastern Europe from the 1340’s, connecting the southern side with the entry gate on the north side, into the old town. Heavy tree limbs were caught on the bridge pilers, creating a dam-like construction. Helicopters were flying over and loudspeakers were used to warn the people on the south-side of the river to leave their houses and apartments, as we later learned. 

Along the south side just behind the levy, was a block of apartments built by the city. It was pretty modern with shops on the ground level and an underground parking garage. The roof line was rounded on both ends which made it look like an upside-down ship. It became known as the “Titanic”. This night, that was very appropriate as the water kept rising. Then it happened; it went over the bridge and over the levee on the south side of the river. Everybody was silent, watching from “our” side, the north, as the water was flooding the homes and stores across the river. Gradually people went back home again, wondering what the next day would bring. We also went back to bed.

The next day we watched some Czech TV which showed the extend of the flooding. It was pretty far-reaching. Helicopters were back, flying over the Titanic, where people were lifted out. Those people did not believe it would be that bad and that sooner or later they could get out. They forgot that even though they were on the second and third floors, power had to be disconnected, and though the water was receding, it took several days before they had access to their apartments. It was called a “400 year flood”. Due to the extend, this kind of flood was to occur about every 400 years. The roads into town were pretty well all blocked off, so we could not get our container until two weeks later because Prague was also affected by this flood. We were urged to buy bottled water since the water supply system was contaminated due to the flood. We only found out, because we saw people coming out of the grocery store across the street, with many bottles of water. 

The English camp we were to visit that week was also on a small river, which exceeded its boarders. Fortunately the building remained dry, but the campers could not leave there for several days. Thus we never made it to visit the camp.

Dobra voda

  This morning I got overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, as I remember from mornings in Pisek, Czech Republic sitting in the living room nook looking both ways overseeing the park across the street with the tall trees and the railroad levee in the back. I thought back to the saturdays I went to the spring to get water. I would meet people there doing the same, sometimes people I knew. That was such a restful place, up in the forest. Sometimes I walked, sometimes I went on my bike with a backpack full of plastic bottles. In Czech plastic bottles were always saved for something, in this case to get water at the spring. There was enough water for a week, to use for coffee and tea, for cooking, or just for drinking.

Dobra voda, in English means: good water.  

What is a drop in the bucket?

A drop in the bucket deals with water. Not just the California drought, though that will be a large part of this blog. People in the Mid-West probably don't care much about the California drought, having to deal with their own flooded homes. People in the South-East coast have to fix up again their places due to hurricane damage, for the umpteenth time. They hear about California drought a lot, but have no idea what that entails.

The average rainfall and snowfall in the USA is about 30" a year, and is neatly broken down as to where it all goes. That does not help those who could not plant their crops in the San Joaquin Valley, nor those whose homes were flooded and those whose businesses were torn apart by the hurricanes.

Neither does it address the many landscape changes in Holland from the floods and redirection of the Rhine and Meuse rivers over the centuries, culminating in the 1953 flood on the South-West islands of the Zeeland and South-Holland provinces. Nor does it help those who lost their homes and businesses in New Orleans as a result of hurricane Katrina.

Water is not just what we use it for and its purposes, but also deals with the geography it is in. There are political ramifications and cultural differences, depending on the area, history and technologies.

This is only one part. Ultimately it will become a book! As chapters become available, I will make some of them available for your review.   Sign up with your email address on the left bottom, and you will receive an email with the next blog.

Global warming, scientific or political?

Fire survivor wants GOP to debate climate change

Daily Democrat, September 18, 2015

I can feel for Jessica Jennings Pyska, losing her home in the Valley fire. I have never experienced such loss, so cannot imagine what it is like. I just started to write a book on “water”, so this subject interests me immensely. I said: “started”, so still am gathering information for the chapters on California: how water is used, how people see it, and what solutions are pursued to manage water.

I lived in California for 25 years, from 1968-1993, most of them in Woodland. During those years a common saying was, that California goes through 7-year cycles of dry and 7 (more or less) wet years. If that is true, then the current 4-year drought period, referred to in the article, is only just over half of such a cycle.  Maybe the fifth and sixth year were not very “wet” either, because upon my return to California in 2009, the reservoirs were only half full or even less; something I do not remember seeing that extensive from my 25-year period prior. Yes, the reservoirs would go half empty, but that lasted only a few years on average, as I recall.

Because of the current global warming debate, I decided to include a section about that in my book. First, I am finding out that California and Nevada, are the states with the most outdated water management laws. Frequently, water rights issued during the gold rush are mentioned. Those rights are still currently on the books, meaning that landowners with such rights can pump as much water as they want, without a required measurement history, as to how much. California has, or maybe better said: had an enormous amount of ground water, so pumping that has not been an issue, until now. Now California is depleting ground water at an alarming rate.  It will take years to replenish, but that is not fully possible, because underground water basins are caving in and might not be restored to the original size.

Growth in population, extensive expansion of farming in the Central Valley (but not only there), which has an arid climate, and increasing water use to help salmon survive and prevent salinization to creep inland, has taxed the amount of water California receives to the limit.

Enter the global warming debate. If we look at science vs. political management, most of the time science is ahead of policies to control them. For example, the increasing use of drones causing near accidents and creating privacy issues, have not been addressed yet by the legislature.  There are many more such examples, but with global warming, it is the opposite. Science has not “caught up” with politics.

I just picked up a book: “The Global Warming Debate”, a report of the European Science and Environment Forum (1996) in which Roger Bate, Director of Economic Affairs in London, Britain, starts a summary with: “Global warming is a political issue.” John Emsley, a science writer for the Department of Chemistry at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London, writes in the next chapter:

Most people are unaware that the predictions of global warming are based mainly on computer simulations, backed up by carefully selected evidence and special pleading.  (Pg.23) 

I just started the book, so this is just the beginning, but I am very suspicious that it will lead to what I stated above: politics is ahead of scientific research on the subject.

This does not mean that the GOP should not address the water issues of California, and for that matter the Democratic Party as well. Nor does it mean that Governor Brown should not pursue accountability for the reduction of pollution caused by human endeavors. So far he has been successful by using global warming as being caused by us humans. California has one of the strictest legislation concerning pollution, which I am all for!

In the ‘80s the Department of Forestry suggested that forest fires are a positive natural development, which has been going on for centuries.  But the GOP and the Democratic Party need to support the funding of resources and further research, to protect the homes of people like Jessica, whose husband helps to control these fires on the front lines!