A large part of our country lies below sea level; that makes us vulnerable to flooding. Protection against flooding will always remain vitally important.
Three locks, six dams and four storm surge barriers together form the Delta Works. They make up the Netherlands’ largest flood defence system. The Delta Works were built by Rijkswaterstaat to protect the country against flooding from the North Sea.
A large part of the Netherlands is below sea level and many large European rivers flow through the country to the sea. The large volume of water and the low-lying situation of the country exposes the Netherlands to the threat of flooding. Flood protection is therefore vital for the safety of millions of people in the Netherlands.
In 2013, the Delta Works were voted the most prestigious hydraulic engineering project in the world
Building the Delta Works
Rijkswaterstaat started building the Delta Works in the year following the Great Flood of 1953. The massive project, with three locks, six dams and five storm surge barriers, was completed in 1997. Since 2018 the Haringvliet Barrier also functions as a storm surge barrier, making the number of storm surge barriers managed by Rijkswaterstaat a total of six.
The Delta Works are impressive structures and some, such as the Dutch IJssel barrier and the Haringvliet sluices, have been declared national monuments. In 2013, the International Federation of Engineers declared the Delta Works to be the most prestigious hydraulic engineering project in the world. The jury praised the project’s innovative technology, sound structure and sustainability.
The principal purpose of the Delta Works is to protect the country against flooding, but the flood barriers also have other benefits:
- The dams allow the flow of water to be manipulated to admit fresh water and release polluted water, thus improving the quality of the water.
- They ensure a larger supply of fresh water on the landward side which benefits agriculture.
- They improve access to large parts of the province of Zeeland for inland shipping, for example by mitigating the impact of tidal movements.
- They have helped to create new nature reserves and recreational areas. The Oosterschelde National park, for instance, has been created from exposed sand and mud flats, while new bodies of water are popular with visitors for the walking and cycling paths or water sports.