Monday, February 13, 2012

An Estuary Project

Halfway during the eighties, Rijkswaterstaat asked the 'Geofaculty' to take the initiative of a multidisciplinary project on the Western Scheldt estuary. The aim was to coordinate research of various existing university departments and research institutes. Actually, asking for research being concentrated on this one water system. 
I had contributed already to the project of the Oosterschelde Stormvloedkering (Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier) and was familiar with the organization of Rijkswaterstaat. Thus, I became for a period of some five years a non-profit Project-Coordinator, as there was not much money available. Only students could be put on a payroll for a short time. 
My first task was to gather scientists from various disciplines all over the country, who might be interested in the project. Enough of them were willing to participate and contribute. The project involved a range from economic to ecological issues of the estuary. The estuary was under heavy stress of human activities, but the river Rhine had already shown, that water quality could be improved substantially, without curtailing economic activities. A useful yardstick.
The project contributed to end results, such as: (1) the construction of a 6 km. two-tube tunnel, (2) the first plan in the world of an estuarry, and (3) the advent of what might have been the first digitized marine chart in the world. The last contribution was an offspring of my efforts to make GIS the main vehicle for coupling research outcomes of different origin.
As a general outcome, I was also asked to take part in a long term planning group on the Netherlands (aiming at 2050), and also follow-up projects directly related. A first project I initiated in relation to these activities was a GIS-based computer animation on the Netherlands. It stretched from the ice-age to the future with four alternative developments for the country, used in an exhibition in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Many of my colleagues were willing to contribute, taking care of the scientific quality of the product in all its respects. 
Furthermore, I was involved in a subsequent project for the extension of the town of Utrecht, which had proved to be deadlocked by surrounding communities at the time. A situation, that was extensively reported by a student group of mine in their final thesis. The Rector-Magnificus of our university, and member of our faculty, organized a working party to break that deadlock, in which I was asked to participate, to calculate the costs of the alternative extensions. It so happened during the process, that I actually triggered off the major extension direction of the town by convincing the working party of its rationale, for environmental and infrastructural reasons. The city itself had to go to The Hague to the Minister to get permission, but the results made Utrecht a prosperous city, now in effect housing the largest ratio of highest educated. 
Only later on, when implementation had started already, I realized that I had broken my 'city rule'. I was not allowed to do any research on cities, whatever that meant. However, it was the faculty itself, that wanted me in the project.
In another project, I could make a practical solution to the National Plan on Nature, which initially did not show any progress towards implementation. I was asked by Rijkswaterstaat to look at the problem, and made a GIS-plan to connect nature areas, not along roads as stipulated in the plan, but along our many waterways, which I considered to be more convenient locations. Although not specified in the plan, it became widely accepted as a useful vehicle for implementation. At home and abroad, it raised much interest, and met positive reactions. Eventually culminating in a European policy after my time.
For unspecified reasons, the faculty home front proved to be less impressed by my research activities. For instance, the Chairman of the Faculty Research Unit told me, that the estuary project was not much use. Possibly as a consequence, my meager experimental research money I had earned was taken from me. It was distributed to other, obviously more important, faculty projects outside my scope. My research was forced to a full stop. An unexpected shock to my external partners, while I had to redirect my research outlook.