From Lake Flevo to Zuiderzee
Without dikes, the Netherlands would be much wetter! / Source: Jan Arkesteijn, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)
Netherlands water countryThe Netherlands is located in the delta area of a number of larger and smaller rivers (including the Meuse, Rhine and Scheldt) that flow into the sea from the European interior. Sediment, sand, gravel, is picked up upstream in the water that flows out. In the low delta area, rivers easily flood, and so the sediments could be deposited on the flooded land. The Netherlands originated in part from these deposits. If there were no dunes and dikes along the sea, if there were no dikes along the rivers, a large part of the Netherlands would soon get wet feet. We are used to it, this has of course typified the Dutch landscape for years. We have taken our measures.
HistoryWhen the Romans were in our country around the turn of the year, what is now the Netherlands looked different than it is today. There were no dikes, the sea was blocked by dunes. Also in this time there were floods, against which the population protected themselves by building houses on higher parts as much as possible. Where higher stretches were missing, people raised, raised or raised elevations. The houses were built on this. Lower areas were wet and swampy.
The Netherlands, around 500 years before Christ - so well before Roman times / Source: RACM & TNO, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
No IJsselmeer, Wadden Sea but a Flevo lakeWhat is now the IJsselmeer and what is now the Wadden Sea was largely a more or less dry area, with a number of larger lakes. Roman authors called the larger lake Lacus Flevo, Lake Flevo. This large lake was later called the Aelmere. You see, our current names Flevoland and Almere have a historic ground!
Around the beginning of the era you could walk from North Holland to Friesland, apart from a number of rivers that you had to cross.
The Netherlands, about 50 years after Christ. You already see more water. / Source: RACM & TNO, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
Sea level riseTemperatures were higher between the years 800-1200, causing sea levels to rise. That of course had immediate consequences for the low countries on the North Sea and parts of the country were flooded. Because of the wild sea currents, more tracts of land disappeared in the few hundred years that would follow. Around 1287 the Zuiderzee existed between the Wadden Islands and the province of Utrecht. In other words, the area that is now roughly the Wadden Sea, IJsselmeer and Flevoland.
FishingThe residents around the newly created Zuiderzee turned the emergency into a virtue, and focused on trade and fishing. Trading cities such as Amsterdam and Kampen were given opportunities to become stronger.
FloodsThe Zuiderzee was a dangerous sea. The wild water currents did not always make the Zuiderzee easy to navigate for shipping. Because the Zuiderzee formed a sort of cove, the water could not go in the face of high tide and northwest wind. Outflow to the Wadden Sea was not possible due to wind and current, as a result of which there were regular floods.
Dykes along the ZuiderzeeNaturally, dikes were built along the coast of the Zuiderzee. This was a very long coastline. Construction, but also maintenance of these dikes was therefore a costly and labor-intensive affair. And a dyke is only as strong as its weakest point. Somewhere a weak spot, the dike can break through in high water or a north-western storm and flood large areas.
SolutionsAlready in the 17th century came Hendrick Stevin (Son of the famous mathematician Simon Stevin) with the idea that the Zuiderzee could be closed. He thought that a dike could come from the head of North Holland to all the Wadden Islands. Then the entire Zuiderzee, including the current Wadden Sea, would come inside the dikes and be reclaimed. Due to the high costs and the limited support for this idea, it has remained stuck at the 'dream' stage.
Polders: profit!The idea of tackling large water surfaces was not new. Successful land reclamation projects, such as the Beemster in 1607-1612, then an inland sea of the Zuiderzee, brought the insight that you could do something about too much water. Moreover, this yielded good and usable land, usually fertile clay soil. More space for living, more space for agriculture. That land could be leased to farmers, or furnished as a country estate by wealthy merchants. Anyway, good money could be made from it!
PolderingThe principle of land reclamation is actually simple. You build a dyke around the lake that you want to tackle. You then ensure that the water is pumped out of the lake. Nowadays we have electric mills for this, in the past windmills were used for this. It is not enough to pump water away, you must also ensure that it stays away. The pumping stations of today and the mills of the past will therefore have to remain active, although it can of course be a bit calmer than when pumping empty.
Plans that didn't make itMore plans were developed. In the nineteenth century, various planners considered the closure of the Zuiderzee. Some plans were far too cumbersome and far too expensive, others did not take nature into account. For example, you can put down a Afsluitdijk, but if you then forget that the river IJssel ended in the Zuiderzee, then you still create a major problem ...
In the following plans, the IJssel was taken into account, but extremely long dikes were devised, or the current from the North Sea was insufficiently taken into account. Politics was not enthusiastic about all these plans. People mainly saw high costs, but few benefits. You can see here some cards with plans that have not been made.
1848. Plan-Kloppenburg and Faddegon. This plan did not take into account the water drainage of the IJssel ... / Source: Danielm, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
1849. Plan-Van Diggelen. According to the engineers T.J. Stieltjes and J.A. Beijerinck technically and financially unattainable. / Source: Danielm, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)
1866. Plan-Beijerinck. According to the Council of Waterways, this yielded too little financially. / Source: Danielm, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)
1870. Plan Stieltjes. An improvement to the Beijerinck plan, but it failed. / Source: Danielm, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)