Changing estuaries, changing views

  • A. J. M. Smits
  • P. H. Nienhuis
  • H. L. F. Saeijs
Part of the Developments in Hydrobiology book series (DIHY, volume 187)


During the design and the execution of the Delta project, carried out after the storm flood of 1953 in the SW Netherlands, the importance of the long-term effects of morphological and ecological developments driven by tides and currents, have been underestimated. Due to these processes the height of the dams will have to be increased for centuries to come, because the land behind the levees cannot grow in elevation anymore with the rising of the sea. Maintenance of the civil-engineering structures, and mitigating their unpredictable impacts on ecosystems, involve very high recurrent costs. The chance of flooding is reduced, but the potential damage after a storm flood is enlarged: seawalls and dykes provide a false sense of safety against flooding. Changes in the role of agricultural use in the European context, offer an opportunity to abandon arable fields and to retrocede them to the sea in order to absorb tidal energy and to allow the land to rise concomitant with the sea. A cost-benefit analysis of this approach should assess the direct and indirect economic values, as well as the non-use (intrinsic) values, whereby public engagement in management questions, facilitates decision-making processes. Reversible and resilient economic measures within the limits of the natural processes are preferable. A future, speculative perspective is an urbanised landscape, where people and investments are located in safe places, e.g. on floating, or sea-encircled artificial dwelling-mounds, surrounded by a landscape that is ruled by the forces of nature. New approaches such as developed in the Westerschelde offer flexible solutions to flooding problems, and are worth a broader evaluation. A worldwide platform of experts should be organised to study the future management of estuaries and deltas, and to develop and exchange new ideas and techniques.

Key words

closure dams estuaries flooding offensive water management potential risks return tidal dynamics SW Netherlands 


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Copyright information

© Springer2006 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. M. Smits
    • 1
    • 3
  • P. H. Nienhuis
    • 2
  • H. L. F. Saeijs
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Water and SocietyRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Institute for Wetland and Water Research, Department of Environmental ScienceRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Erasmus Centre for Environmental StudiesErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

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