After a close shave with nature 20 years ago, the Netherlands has sought to reinvent defensive flood prevention. “Room for the Waal” is an anti-flood program in Nijmegen, a city which spans the River Waal, Europe’s busiest waterway, where a sharp turn forms a bottleneck as it nears the city.
In 1995, heavy rains in upstream France and Germany caused an upsurge in water levels in Nijmegen that threatened to breach the dikes, warranting the evacuation of the city’s 170,000 residents, as well as cattle. Despite a crisis averted, the city is undertaking a flood resilience initiative focused on widening the floodplain rather than hedging its bets with fortified embankments.
Through this floodplain, excavators will carve a new channel for the River Waal, leaving an island at its center. For starters, the dikes will recede 1,148 feet inland, and the resulting widened floodplains will be excavated to create room for a new channel. The island that is left behind presents an opportunity to construct a whole new section of city along with a unique urban river park, thus creating a two-fold tool for urban regeneration and flood deterrence. At certain points, the island is at a sufficient elevation for this purpose.
The city is building four new bridges to connect the new island to both sides of the river, while a new neighborhood is rising across the river from the city center, balancing urban development on both sides of the waterway. Existing floodplains along the River Waal consist mostly of agricultural land, but 50 families in the village of Lent will need to relocate nevertheless in order to accommodate the receded embankments.
Room for the Waal is part of national flood prevention program “Room for the River,” into which the Dutch government is investing 2.3 billion euros (nearly $2.6 billion) on more than 30 crucial river locations to protect four million people who live on flood-prone territory. The approach consists of broadening and deepening floodplains and removing groins that obstruct water flow. Room for the Waal is expected to complete at the end of this year with a final cost of $381.6 million.