Netherlands Playing Major Role in Advising U.S. on Water Management

Sharing experience is the latest phase in a nearly 400-year-old partnership

Experts from the Netherlands have been busy offering advice to federal, state and local governments on how to manage water in the environment, according to Dutch Ambassador Rudolf Bekink.

In an interview with Chuck Conconi of Qorvis Focus Washington, Ambassador Bekink said that water—living with and managing water in areas in urbanized and agricultural areas—has  been a major topic of discussion between Dutch and Americans.

“It’s a global issue—rising sea levels,” he said.  “And we have been fairly active [worldwide], but since I’ve been here, I’m talking water. In Chicago, I’m talking water; in St. Louis, a seminar. Everywhere we are talking water these days.”

Sixty percent of the Dutch countryside is below sea level, and the Dutch have developed both technology and wisdom over centuries of living with the very powerful and potentially destructive force of water at their doorstep. That wisdom and technology sparked a philosophy the Dutch call “Room for the River,” which advocates accommodating the natural forces of water rather than resisting them. Room for the River has gained a lot of attention in the United States, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, and a lot of invitations to share the Dutch experience.

“To live with water—you cannot escape the fact that there’s a lot of water,” says Ambassador Bekink. “Thank God there’s a lot of water. And you’ve got to live with it; you can’t battle it. No big concrete dikes, but wetlands, for example.”

Wetlands are not the solution for New York City, at least not the whole solution, but the Netherlands is working with the United States to help develop alternatives for large urban centers like New York. A Dutch engineer participates in a task force on the subject headed by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.

“So we have some experience,” says Ambassador Bekink. “We use it and we like to help you.”

Collaboration on water issues is just the latest chapter in a very close relationship that is nearly 400 years old. Commerce has always been a strong feature of the relationship, and today, trade and investment between the two countries are .

“We are both huge investors, you in my country and my country in your country. I think we are the third-largest investor in the U.S. We use the figure of 680,000 jobs in America directly dependent on Dutch trade and investment. It’s quite a lot; it’s [equivalent to] a sizeable city,” the ambassador says.

The Dutch own some of the most iconic names in the American marketplace–Shell, Unilever, Heineken, and Phillips, for example. But less well-known companies and start-ups alike are taking advantage of the American market and the natural affinities between Dutch and Americans that can drive successful business.

Ambassador Bekink singles out “the can-do mentality that’s in your DNA, in your genes,” as an attribute that appeals to him and his countrymen. The Dutch have a long spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that matches up quite well with that. They are the inventors of wi-fi and Bluetooth and created the first public company and the first stock market in the seventeenth century.

“So Wall Street is a granddaughter, you could say,’ he says.

The Dutch-American partnership started strong and remains strong, from the first Dutch settlements in the 1600s to the outsized role the Netherlands plays in NATO to a commercial relationship that continues to create opportunities and spur innovation.

“Don’t forget, by the way, that we Dutch financed your war of independence,” Ambassador Bekink says. “We are one of your older allies and we were the first to salute you—the American flag—somewhere in the Caribbean. So we’ve been together for a long time.”





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