- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

MAASBOMMEL, Netherlands — This low-lying land has a new weapon in its battle with the tides: amphibious houses.

For centuries, the Dutch have built dikes to protect themselves from the sea. Now, with predictions of more frequent flooding caused by climate change, they are looking for ways to live with water, not fight it.

That change of thinking is reflected in a new housing project — a community of amphibious homes — in this central Dutch village about 60 miles southeast of Amsterdam.

Unlike the houseboats that line many Dutch canals or the floating villages of Asia, the several dozen homes are being built on solid ground, but they also are designed to float on floodwater.

Each house is made of lightweight wood, and the concrete base is hollow, giving it shiplike buoyancy.

With no foundations anchored in the earth, the structure rests on the ground and is fastened to 15-foot-long mooring posts with sliding rings, allowing it to float upward if the river floods. All the electrical cables, water and sewage flow through flexible pipes inside the mooring piles.

The 700-square-foot structures are on the “wrong” side of a dike in a beautiful flood plain of one of the country’s main waterways, the Maas River, overlooking lush marshland and a harbor.

That design addresses another constant fight in the Netherlands — finding space for housing in Europe’s most densely populated country, said Chris Zevenbergen of Dura Vermeer, the company behind the project. He said floating houses could help make up the 40 percent shortfall in land suitable for development over the next 50 years.

At a starting price of 260,000 euros (about $310,000) for a house with three small bedrooms, the homes are at the high end of the market for a village such as Maasbommel — but many have been sold, and the first residents are moving in.

“They are pretty much just regular houses,” said builder Hans van de Beek. “The only difference is that when the water rises, they rise.”

So, during times of high water, people will need a boat to get from the dike where they park their car to their floating home.

For more than 1,000 years, the Dutch have been holding back the sea, and even reclaiming it. Landfills and windmill-driven pumps have created vast fields, called polders, for new cities, pastures and cropland. If it weren’t for its system of dikes and canals, as much as half of the Netherlands could be submerged.

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