The New York Times (pg. F5), April 3, 2007
AT RISK FROM FLOODS, BUT LOOKING AHEAD WITH FLOATING HOUSES
By Sarah Lyall
DATELINE: MAASBOMMEL, the Netherlands, March 29
Anne van der Molen lives on the edge of the River Maas, by definition an insecure spot in a country constantly trying to keep water at bay. But she is ready for the next flood.
Excited, even. "We haven't floated," she said of her house, "but we're looking forward to floating."
Her two-bedroom, two-story house, which cost about $420,000, is not a houseboat, and not a floating house of the sort common across the world. It is amphibious: resting on land but built to rise with the water level. It sits on a hollow concrete foundation and is attached to six iron posts sunk into the lake bottom. Should the river swell, as it often does in the rain, the house will float up as much as 18 feet, held in place by two horizontal mooring posts that connect it to the neighboring house, and then float back down as the water subsides.
It is part of a new experiment in living. The 46 houses here are meant to address two issues at the heart of the housing debate in this low- lying, densely populated country, said Steven de Boer, a concept developer at Dura Vermeer, the company that developed the project. These are lack of space for new housing to meet a growing demand and the need to anticipate relentlessly rising sea levels and a heightened chance of flooding rains because of climate change.
Worries about water levels are not a hypothetical issue here in this village in Gelderland province, southeast of Amsterdam. In 1995, the Maas and other rivers overflowed their banks and breached the dikes, forcing 250,000 people to evacuate their homes. Now the dikes are higher, but with a possible sea-level rise of several feet within a century or so, much more is needed.
"All the universities are united in one big program with the government; we have a team of some 500 people working on climate- proofing the Netherlands," said Pier Vellinga, a professor of climate change at the University of Amsterdam. "Whatever happens -- Greenland melting or tropical storms surging on the Atlantic -- we are here to stay. That is becoming our national slogan."
That means developing new guidelines for building in flood-prone areas, introducing insurance for those who live in exposed places, building higher dikes and exploring ways for farmers to adapt to a new agricultural landscape.
For private firms, it means experimenting with new housing, as Dura Vermeer is doing here in Maasbommel. The company has also built a floating greenhouse near the Hague and, along with other firms, has received government approval to try other kinds of housing in 15 areas in the country at risk for flooding. Other proposals -- for entire floating cities, for instance -- are still preliminary, but are being talked about seriously as a possible way forward.
In Maasbommel, Mrs. van de Molen loves the feeling of almost being part of the river.
"Dutch people have always had to fight against the water," she said. "This is another way of thinking about it. This is a way to enjoy the water, to work with it instead of against it."