- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

THE HAGUE | When Hurricane Katrina destroyed Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s home in New Orleans along with thousands of others, she contacted Dutch officials in Washington and the Netherlands for information about dikes and levees.

“She did a good job calling,” said Matthijs van Ledden, a Dutch engineer now working in New Orleans. “After all, we have centuries and centuries of experience, engineering our survival and existence against the sea.”

During Congress’ Memorial Day holiday break, which began Tuesday, the Louisiana Democrat is leading a congressional delegation to the Netherlands to study the Dutch integrated water management system.

The Netherlands’ new technology can find weak spots in levees automatically and digest data 100 times faster than previous systems. Such innovations can limit flooding, save lives and billions of dollars in reconstruction costs.

It is the second time Mrs. Landrieu is visiting the Netherlands, said a spokesman in her Senate office. Between 40 and 45 officials from Louisiana and other states were expected to join her, leaving Tuesday and staying in the Netherlands four days.

Dale Morris, economic adviser at the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, said the delegation will investigate what is probably the best water protection system in the world in a country that shares Louisiana’s and other U.S. regions’ challenge in protecting populations and economic infrastructure below sea level.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, for instance, is situated 12 feet below sea level, and so are many other parts of the country. The Netherlands suffered a devastating flood that killed thousands of people and animals a half-century ago, but “in 1953 they vowed it would never happen again and continued developing our engineering, allocating vast amounts of money to research and further education,” Mr. Morris said.

Mrs. Landrieu is also expected to ask about the impact of climate change on inland as well as coastal cities, he said. Her first inspection mission to the Netherlands was in 2006.

Every year, about 25 levees collapse worldwide, costing local, national and sometimes global economies and communities billions of dollars and killing many people. Nearly 2,000 people died after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast in 2005 and damage was more than $100 billion.

The Netherlands was one of the first nations to offer assistance to the U.S. after the disaster.

Louisiana is now developing a flood protection program for the coming century.

“We will finish the job in 2011 or 2012,” said Mr. van Ledden, whose company, Royal Haskoning, is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s a good thing the mission is going back again since academic information, including new technologies and applications on climate change, is a great challenge that needs to be assessed almost constantly. The trip will add to further understanding those challenges.”

The delegation will visit Amsterdam’s city water management systems and agencies including flood control and will also examine redevelopment projects. Members are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Netherlands parliament and water boards, who oversee all water management systems in the country. A visit to the Delft technical and engineering university was also planned to meet with leading researchers and other scientists.

The new technology uses helicopters and airplanes as well as satellites and data processing with smart software applications. According to Mr. van Ledden, miles and miles of levees - not only in Louisiana but around the world - can be monitored for vulnerabilities under the new system.

“Now we can recalculate a whole system and know precisely what parts have to be replaced and renewed,” he said. “Every levee is as strong as its weakest part. We used to study and analyze every part of the levees thoroughly. That could take years. But with these new technologies, we gain a lot of precious time.”

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