The Delta Works

In June 2007, I was invited as a special guest to join Job van de Sande, head of Deltaworks Online, to document the country’s most important dams and sluices. We used kite aerial photography to produce a set of 360° Panoramas looking down on the engineering marvels. Deltaworks Online is a non-profit organization providing reliable information about water management, flood protection and the delta works in the Netherlands.

photo of the Hartel Barrier

360° view of the Hartel Barrier

Background and History

The Netherlands is a low lying county, much of it below sea level. Throughout the ages, many devastating floods have claimed thousands of lives and large tracts of land. In 1570, the All Saints Flood engulfed half of Northern Holland, killing at least 5000 people (and possibly more than 20,000, but exact data is not available).

The first migrants to settle in the Netherlands built their homes on embankments and constructed mounds for taking refuge during high water. Later on, the Romans dug canals and even constructed a dam in an attempt to control the flood waters. It was not until the 19th century, however, that technologies such as steam power and new materials like concrete made it possible to build more resistant dikes. But these structures still could not defend the country from the prowess of Mother Nature.

Large floods occurred in 1906, 1916, and again in 1953—the worst flood in living memory. On January 31, 1953, the sea spilled over its dikes in the middle of the night, flooding 500,000 acres, killing 1835 people, and damaging 47,000 homes, factories, and offices.

“The Eighth Wonder of the World”

That same year, the newly appointed Delta Committee came up with a plan to strengthen the country’s flood defenses. The Delta Act, which was based on the committee’s plan, was signed into law in 1957. Among other things, the Act proposed creating several so-called “Delta Works” in the southwest to shorten the coastline from 700 kilometers to just 25, reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. The Delta Works system would include dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers.

The Delta Project presented enormous challenges. Technologies and know-how to complete such a large scale project were lacking or simply did not exist. In fact, efforts to close off tidal inlets of this size and depth had not been previously attempted anywhere. It would take nearly 30 years and billions of dollars to realize the committee’s vision.

In October 1986, the opening of the Eastern Sheldt storm surge barrier marked the completion of the original Delta Project’s ambitious feat of engineering to protect the Netherlands from future disasters. Building the Delta Works was a colossal undertaking, sometimes referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world.”

The Future

Several more Delta Works have been constructed since 1986, with the most recent coming online in 1997. And due to climate change and relative sea-level rise, dikes will eventually need to be built higher and wider.

360° Bubble Panoramas


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Photos © 2007 Scott Haefner, Deltaworks Online.

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