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Flood Adaptation and Mitigation Planning in the Netherlands

By Onam Bisht, M.R.P./M.L.A. ’20

group by lake
Roelof from the subsurface and groundwater systems department at Deltares,demonstrating subsidence caused from peat decay in one of the polders

With my exit project focusing on the topic of flood adaptation and mitigation planning, I was incredibly fortunate to get an opportunity to spend my summer working at Deltares, an independent research organization in the Netherlands that provides flood management consultancy solutions to projects worldwide. With more than two-thirds of the Netherlands vulnerable to flooding, it is seen as a forerunner in water management planning for being able to continuously adapt with the rising sea level and changing climate. Therefore, working at Deltares provided me the opportunity to understand some of the innovative tools and techniques used in flood management planning while working with a multi-disciplinary team of over 800 water experts including planners, engineers, scientists, and designers.

As an intern, I really enjoyed working on some of the projects at Deltares. I conducted a literature review for international project sites on climate risk data with a focus on flood risk, scanning and summarizing existing adaptation strategies, as well carrying out actor analysis for present stakeholders. Not only did I gain a lot of knowledge about the existing landscape of climate change and flood mitigation efforts existing in different regions worldwide, but this kind of study also helped me develop a methodology for my master’s project.

Working at a large institution like Deltares was very exciting as I was also exposed to some other exciting things that were happening there during the summer. Besides skill-based workshops and conferences that happened regularly, I also got a chance to meet some visiting design students from MICA, Baltimore who presented and discussed their studio projects that they had developed in collaboration with Deltares. I also got a chance to go on field trips with my supervisors to understand the centuries-old Dutch practices of flood management and to really grasp their deep-rooted cultural ideology of “living with water.” The entire rural landscape, flanked with dikes, ditches, canals, and windmills, was a delightful sight to encounter. An exciting all-day department picnic was full of fun activities and traditional Dutch cuisine of krokets and apple pies. The team exercise for the picnic involved practicing our sheep-herding skills by madly running around a herd of sheep to teach us an important skill of having the right balance between control and freedom while managing employees in the workplace.

Sheep herding
Sheep-herding team exercise during a department picnic event

Spending the summer in the Netherlands was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I would want to go back there, if possible. Although people proudly speak their native Dutch language, everyone is very skilled at speaking English as well so settling in was very easy. The Dutch enjoy the simple things, are obsessed with their bikes, and believe in having a good work-life balance so much so that people at Deltares don’t have an assigned desk and have to pick a new desk every day when they come in to work. This was not only environmentally efficient in saving unnecessary office space required to accommodate the entire staff, but also to encourage people to work from wherever they could. Overall I had a memorable summer internship where I not only gained a lot of knowledge working at Deltares but was also fortunate to experience and evolve from progressive culture in the Netherlands.

mom and daughter on bike
A Dutch family sharing a bicycle


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