USF, Dutch Experts Examine Urban Water Issues

Resilient Tampa Bay conference looks at preparing the region for water emergencies, including storm surge and urban flooding.


Participants at Tuesday's session for Resilient Tampa Bay. Photo: Aimee Blodgett / USF News


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2011) – It’s been said that no one lives and works better with water than the people of the Netherlands, where two-thirds of the nation is at or below sea-level and centuries of finely-tuned expertise has created the world’s most technologically advanced flood control systems.


So in a region like Tampa Bay, where rising sea levels, a continuous threat of storm surge during hurricane season and an urban infrastructure challenged to cope with urban flooding, the opportunity to draw on Dutch expertise through a partnership with the University of South Florida has provided unparalleled expertise in eyeing local water challenges.


Over the past three years, Dutch officials have traveled to Tampa to conduct workshops for local government leaders and water management officials. USF’s College of Engineering has sent students to the Netherlands for summer research sessions. Now comes Resilient Tampa Bay, the opportunity to put the latest technology and knowledge into a plan that could transform how the region deals with water threats.


The three-day conference began Monday, Feb. 21, bringing more than 100 local participants together with leading Dutch experts to develop specific ideas to prepare Tampa Bay area communities for emergencies such as urban flooding and storm surge and the long-term threat of sea level rise.


Click here to view an agenda for the conference.


During the event, multidisciplinary Dutch experts in water and spatial planning from private and public organizations such as DHV, Dura Vermeer, Royal Haskoning, Imares (University of Wageningen), Iv-Infra, and UNESCO-IHE, will share lessons they have learned in decades of successfully managing the Netherlands’ on-going threats from water.

The goal of the program will be to develop recommendations for local governments and planning agencies to consider in protecting vital infrastructure and transportation; improving economic development conditions through adequate storm water mitigation; reducing flooding; preserving natural habitats; planning for accidents and minimizing the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

In addition the workshop will contribute to the development of a training program led by the Patel Center that will help other coastal cities worldwide to improve their resilience and reduce their vulnerability. This training program called 'Resilient Coastal Cities’ will be tested in several coastal cities along the Gulf of Mexico in the next 12 months.

“Clearly coastal cities around the world are vulnerable to events like flooding and storm surges and global change will serve as a threat multiplier for these cities,” said Kala Vairavamoorthy, director of USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions. “The Tampa Bay Region is one of the communities that will become more vulnerable to such events in the future.”

Adaptation and mitigation are the words most commonly used in describing an ideal strategy for Tampa Bay. USF College of Engineering Professor Daniel Yeh said an adaptation strategy can be something as creative as building parking garages or parks designed to flood intentionally, pulling water away from homes and businesses.

But given current economic conditions, long-range planning is needed to make sure that vulnerable areas are on the list for adaptation and should the region regain its rapid-growth curve that more development is not put in harm’s way, Yeh said.

Coordination also is key.

“You have different agencies focusing on specific problems, but you don’t have broad agency collaboration,” Yeh said. “We can provide that bridge. These resiliency issues cut across disciplines and agencies.”

The educational exchange between USF and Dutch officials is part of a larger cooperative effort between the United States and the Netherlands on water-related crises. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the city’s levees collapsed, the Netherlands immediately dispatched a Dutch Royal Navy frigate, mobile pumps and other critical supplies to the flooded city.

The Dutch continued to assist in the aftermath: they helped drain the city of flood waters; lead inspections of levees; provided design guidance on emergency repairs and analyzed soil impacted by flooding. Now nearly six years later, the Dutch continue to work with New Orleans officials on water management and sustainable urban design. Dutch engineering firms have been hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to aid in the design and construction oversight of advanced hydraulic barriers to protect the city from another catastrophe.


 In California, Dutch-American partnerships are working on maintaining vital agricultural and commercial areas – and millions of residents downstream – by strengthening flood control along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, in the California Bay Delta, and in the San Francisco Bay. Additionally in Florida, former Gov. Charlie Crist had consulted with Dutch officials on climate change impacts on the Everglades.


And as part of the 400-year bond between New York City (formerly New Amsterdam) and the Netherlands, Dutch officials from Rotterdam and Dutch companies are working with New York City and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey on plans to redesign the Brooklyn waterfront, and secure New York’s ports from water threats.


“The Netherlands and the United States are each other’s best allies in dealing with water-related crisis and in Florida our cooperation continues to produce tangible results with Resilient Tampa Bay being our latest example,” said Joseph Weterings, Consul General of the Netherlands Consulate General in Miami. “As the Netherlands and Floridians work together, we are mitigating ecological and economic harm.”

A complete program for Resilient Tampa Bay can be found here. Additional background information on the Tampa Bay region’s vulnerability to urban flooding can be found here, including a video simulation of “Hurricane Phoenix”, a worst-case scenario for storm surge from a major hurricane.


To learn more about water management initiatives in the Netherlands, click here.


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.