In our industry, the benefits of federal spending on water infrastructure are usually defined in economic and transportation terms. We emphasize the advantages of job creation, trade competitiveness and lower transportation costs.
But these arguments, while potent and valid, only tell half the story. With the federal budget getting squeezed by Washington policymakers with little appreciation for waterways and their benefits, now more than ever it’s imperative to spread the other half of the story.
Namely, that the waterways are a source of hydropower, drinking water, manufacturing and irrigation. The waterways support all kinds of marine habitats, and they help provide flood control and hurricane protection for many coastal areas. Examples involving flood control are especially timely with the Northeast being hit hard this hurricane season, and the devastating spring floods along the Mississippi River.
A briefing on Wednesday by the Congressional Waterways Caucus hit the right tone in this direction. Co-hosted by the National Waterways Conference and The Netherlands embassy, it offered an unusual opportunity for lawmakers and their staffs to learn from representatives of the waterways policy community and professionals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the importance of waterways infrastructure. And they got a bit of an international perspective as well.
One of the guest speakers was Wim Kuijken, the Delta Commissioner of The Netherlands, who is responsible for implementing a national program to strengthen flood control and protect his country’s freshwater supply. (Sixty percent of The Netherlands is at or below sea level and two-thirds of Dutch people live in flood-prone areas.)
In addition to the Washington, D.C., briefing, Kuijken will visit several other U.S. cities to discuss the Dutch approach to water management. “The Netherlands and the United States are each other’s best allies in water-related challenges,” he said. “We share the same challenges and shared challenges require shared solutions.”
Kuijken said that Dutch water management specialists are working with the state of Louisiana to design a water management strategy for that state, and in New York City, officials from Rotterdam and Brooklyn are cooperating on a waterfront exchange project on urban flood protection.
Expanding the understanding of policymakers about all the advantages of waterways infrastructure is crucial to securing scare federal dollars in the Washington budget game. But it’s also reassuring to know that by developing links like these with The Netherlands, some waterways projects can be advanced and improved without huge infusions of federal funds. You might say that this has given new meaning to the expression, “Going Dutch.”