Testing the waterworks, strengthening the dikes and dams

Safety first. With a large part of the Netherlands below sea level, it is no wonder that dikes and dams are crucial for our country. But water management is not only necessary for the Netherlands. China has thousands of rivers which are of high importance to the drink water, irrigation and many other purposes. Thus, with China’s scale and the Dutch expertise, they are a great match.

Rijkswaterstaat has long-standing cooperation with several river commissions in China. This week, a Dutch delegation is visiting the Huaihe River Commission (HRC). Mr. Remco Schrijver, Project Manager Sino-Dutch cooperation on dike and dam safety at Rijkswaterstaat, is already involved in the Sino-Dutch water management cooperation since 2008. As a preview of this next step in the cooperation we talked with him about developments, differences and outlooks.

“China has huge rivers such as the Yangtze and Yellow River, but the problem is that they cannot compare to anything in the Netherlands. The largest river in the Netherlands is the Rhine and that one is very similar to the Huaihe in China. By working together with the Huaihe River Commission, we can learn a lot from each other”, mr. Schrijver sketches the current situation.

Connecting worldwide water management

Mr. Schrijver explains the special position of water management in the Netherlands. “We have the Water Act where all issues concerning flood protection and water safety are legally enshrined. I think we are one of the few countries in the world with this type of regulation. The basis of this act is a periodical assessment of our water works, which happens according to a specific safety standard. The first standard was set after the 1953 flooding. Since then, the number of people and the economic value we need to protect against flooding, have increased significantly. Therefore, at the beginning of this year we devised new standards and instruments for testing and assessing water safety. Now we want to go one step further by testing these worldwide and compare our methodology to those used in other countries.”

The focus for this mission is on drafting a joint Sino-Dutch working plan on dike and dam safety and setting up actual cooperation projects, including pilot locations. The dikes in the Yishisu water basin, which will be visited, could become the scene for these pilots. The exact location for the project, which should start in 2018, will be decided upon as the outcome of this mission.

Mr. Schrijver describes that the ideal project location, should actually not be one with perfect dikes. “We have done a pre-study before where we assessed a dike. But at that time, a rather well-designed dyke not bearing much safety risks was chosen. You then get perfect results, but you cannot learn much from it. So it is important to have built up enough trust that we can get to see the less than perfect dikes, and I think that will be the case for this project. Furthermore, the available data is also crucial. We need to have info about the dike, its ground material etc. So our perfect spot would be a dike with some problems, but which has been monitored.”

Improving through cooperation

On both sides, different organizations are involved in the cooperation: asset managers, knowledge institutes and technical universities. According to mr. Schrijver, “active involvement of asset managers is essential to solve real problems. On the Chinese side, there is now the Huaihe River Commission (HRC), Nanjing Hydraulic Research Institute (NHRI) and HoHai University. On our side, Rijkswaterstaat, Deltares, Delft Technical University and IHE Delft work together. We are very keen on cooperating specifically in this so-called triple helix.”

In China, there has been enough news this year about flooded cities and the damage it does. Mr. Schrijver does mention that “since dams are at a higher risk in China, they are being periodically assessed. I am now curious to see how much knowledge of the dams can be used for dike assessment. The safety standards that the Chinese use for assessments are, however, much lower than the Dutch ones. As a consequence, the Chinese are much more advanced in emergency planning and crisis management. Since large areas of land can be flooded, they are well-prepared for that. The Netherlands can learn from their organization, just as they can learn from our dike and dam management.”

And this mutual benefit and learning is in the end one of the most important aspects of the cooperation. Mr. Schrijver concludes: “Although we have one of the highest, if not the highest, flood protections we need to remain open to improvements. Especially since we our flood management needs to meet new safety standards and deal with the effects of climate change. Therefore, these international projects are very important. The Chinese look with a different vision and ask questions that can highlight weaknesses in our system. I believe that this way of working and doing these kinds of projects will enable both sides to ensure and improve dike and dam safety. Now and in the future.”