Riverine floods worldwide stress the importance of proper spatial planning and water management

Report on the Workshop on Flood Risk Management under Climate Change

Los Angeles River, 19 November 2022

On behalf of Utrecht University, Herman Havekes (affiliated with the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law) recently took part in a workshop on riverine floods. Also present were representatives of universities and water management organisations from Canada (British Columbia), USA (California and US Army Corps of Engineers) and Chile. While there is no lack of technical and scientific knowledge, the organisation of water management is often fragmented in other countries.

The Workshop on Flood Risk Management under Climate Change took place from 17-19 November at the UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles (Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment). In total, some 25 people participated in the workshop. Herman Havekes gave a presentation on the Dutch organisation of water management and the approach to riverine floods, such as the 'Room for rivers' programme (elements of which can also be found in the policy of other countries).

In particular, the central position within our water management of the water boards (levying their own taxes), the strict statutory water safety standards and the establishment of a Delta Commissioner, are unknown in other countries and impressed the other participants. In projects elsewhere, one sometimes has to deal with 1,300 (!) competent authorities in one and the same region, mainly at the local level, and furthermore the necessary financing is often missing. So, what is lacking is a strong organisation at the regional level, which has a negative impact on project implementation. On the other hand, technical and scientific knowledge usually form no obstacle, and are generally quite in order in other countries as well.

However, next to a number of differences, there are many similarities at the same time. The relationship between Spatial Planning and Water Management forms an extremely important issue elsewhere as well: for instance, should we (continue to) build in flood plains, or rather "put people where they should be"? Furthermore, the question of what to base flood safety standards on (number of hectares, economic value and/or number of victims), the great importance of flood risk maps, the need for proper communication to citizens, and new approaches such as 'building with nature' were important topics of discussion.

Conversely, the Netherlands can learn from the early warning systems abroad, which were developed in the US partly because of the many hurricanes, and the relatively large role played by insurance. Speaking about insurance, poverty comes up as an important subject for discussion: the flood insurance premium is the first thing poor families cut back on, with all the misery that entails.

The participation of Herman Havekes, as the only European partner, was extremely appreciated and, as mentioned, opened up new insights for the other participants. UCLA plans the workshop to culminate in a publication, which should appear in the near future. They also want to keep in contact with all participants and follow up the workshop in the future.