The Delta Works (Dutch: Deltawerken) are a series of constructions built between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands, to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers. Along with the Zuiderzee Works, they have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt have been subject to flooding for centuries. After construction of the Afsluitdijk in the north of the country completed in 1933, the Netherlands started studying the damming of the Rhine-Meuse Delta. Plans were developed to turn the delta into a group of freshwater lakes. New dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers would be built to shorten the coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. Due to indecision and World War II, little progress was made. In 1950 two small estuary mouths, the Brielse Gat near Brielle and the Botlek near Vlaardingen were dammed. Then the flood of 1953 (Watersnoodramp) took place. In the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 and the morning of 1 February 1953, a heavy storm caused a storm tide. Nearly 2,000 people died in the flood and there was widespread property damage, mostly in the province of Zeeland.
As a result, the Delta Works Commission was installed to research the causes and develop measures to prevent such disasters in future. They revised some of the old plans and came up with the Deltaplan. The plan consisted of blocking the estuary mouths of the Oosterschelde, the Haringvliet and the Grevelingen. This reduced the length of the dikes exposed to the sea by 700 km (430 mi). The mouths of the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Westerschelde were to remain open because these were used as important shipping routes to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The dikes along these waterways were to be heightened and strengthened. New road and waterway instructure would be built alongside the Deltaworks to stimulate the economy of Zeeland and improve the connection between the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.
Plans for a coastline construction had been suggested long before, and small steps had been taken, but it was the 1953 flood that led to the rapid development of the Delta Works. With the Delta Works in place, disastrous floods like the one in 1953 should occur no more than once every 4,000 years. In total, the Delta Works are the largest storm barrier in the world and have served as an example to many similar projects all over the world.
The Delta Works consists of structures that are scattered over Zeeland and South Holland. To explore them, you can stay the night in Rotterdam or one of the other larger destinations in area, hire a car there and then drive out to some of these structures, while also taking in some of Zeeland's endless flat vistas. The Oosterscheldekering and the Maeslantkering are the most interesting attractions to visit, and while driving, you can lay out a route over some of the other dams and dykes.
To go directly to the Deltapark Neeltje Jans, coming from the Randstad, take either the Rotterdam-Beneluxtunnel or the Brienenoordbridge. Then, take direction Zierikzee over the A15-A29-N59. After Zierikzee follow direction Burgh-Haamstede and take exit Westenschouwen/Middelburg (N57). You should follow the signs towards Neeltje Jans and then the signs to Deltapark. The N57 is one of the main roads, connecting several of the dams and leading along the Deltapark Neeltje Jans. If you're using a navigation system to get to the Deltapark, set it on "Faelweg, in Vrouwenpolder".
The Deltapark is well-reachable by public transport in summer, but there are limited services in winter. Take a train to Middelburg and from there, take bus line 133. The whole trip should take 2 to 2½ hr one way, from Rotterdam.
It's possible to drive over the Delta Works by car, to get an idea of the massive nature of the structure. At the Haringvliet Expo and Deltapark Neeltje Jans you'll find all kinds of information about the different elements of the construction and it's possible to see part of the dams from the inside.
Visitor centres and viewing points
- 1 Deltapark Neeltje Jans (formerly Delta Expo), Faelweg 5, Vrouwenpolder (from Rotterdam, follow the A15 towards Europoort. Take exit 12 to Brielle/Middelburg/N57. Follow the N57 and after 10 km you will reach the Haringvlietdam. Keep on following the N57 and you will cross the Brouwersdam, and after 20 km more the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier. Neeltje Jans is indicated there), ☏ . 1 Apr-6 Nov 10:00-17:30 daily. The Deltapark Neeltje Jans is the most common entry point into the Delta Works, and if you're going to pick just one of the Delta Works points, this is probably your best bet. It's a theme park that goes beyond the storm surge barriers alone. There's an abundance of information about the history, construction and design of the Delta Works as a whole, and an opportunity to see the one of the barriers from the inside. The so-called "Delta-exposition" gives an overview of 2000 years of water works in the Netherlands and of course focusses on the Delta Works construction. The exposition about the dramatic 1953 flood that inspired the whole construction leaves a lasting impression and there's another fine exhibition dealing with whales, including a 22-meter whale skeleton. For children, there's a fun water park and some great slides. The "hurricane-machine" gives an idea of the power of wind and there's the skeleton of Max the Mammoth, who once lived here, to admire. There's seals and sharks to see, as well as other colourful fish and corals in the Bluereef aquarium. €21.
- 2 Expo Haringvliet, Haringvlietplein 3, Stellendam, ☏ . This is mainly a nice place for having a drink while getting the best view over the Haringvlietdam. You can also see a film and some pictures about the 1953 flood. €5.
The fourteen works below are rarely in action, which in itself is a good thing. They are most often only active during storms. The first time the five major works were closed was January 3, 2018. In January 2018, the requirements for closing the weirs and dams were lowered to keep the Delta Works from rusting away and being able to be used when another extreme tide comes along. The listings below are sorted in chronological order of completion.
- 3 Stormvloedkering Hollandse IJssel (Algerakering). This weir in the Hollandse IJssel river is the oldest of the Delta Works, being put in usage on October 22, 1958. The weir was named after the former minister of Traffic and Water Management (Verkeer en Waterstaat), Jacob Algera, who stepped down from his position twelve days before the weir would be used first due to health concerns. The work had to be a weir as the Hollandse IJssel river is an important shipping route, and blocking it with a dam would severely harm the economy of not only the Netherlands, but also neighbouring countries such as Germany. From 2012-2017, the weir was closed on nine occasions.
- 4 Zandkreekdam. The Zandkreekdam is a dam separating the Veerse Gat from the Oosterschelde. It was opened on October 1, 1960, and was the second Delta Work completed. The dam is 830 m (2,720 ft) long, and can be crossed using the N256 provincial road.
- 5 Veerse Gatdam. The second dam listed as a Delta Work to be completed, closing off the Veerse Gat on the west side. The dam was completed on April 27, 1961 and runs between Walcheren and Noord-Beveland for 2.8 km (1.7 mi). The dam is crossed by the N57. Due to the completion of the dam, the fishing fleet of Veere had to move the day prior to completion to nearby Colijnsplaat. The Veerse Meer has since become a popular recreational area for water sports, especially windsurfing.
- 6 Grevelingendam. The Grevelingendam is a dam in between the islands of Schouwen-Duiveland and Goeree-Overflakkee. Work on the 6 km (3.7 mi) long dam began in 1958 and was completed in 1965. The dam was opened April 1 of that year. The dam is crossed by the N57.
- 7 Volkerakdam. The Volkerakdam is the fifth Delta Project, completed in 1969. The dam is a complex of three dams traversed by two roads; the A29 highway and the N59 provincial road. The Volkerak was closed off from the Hollands Diep by the dam, and because that area was part of the Scheldt-Rhineconnection, a popular and heavily used shipping route from the Rotterdam harbour to the harbour of Antwerp, Belgium was now involved in the Delta Works, which led to the creation of the Scheldt-Rhine canal.
- 8 Haringvlietdam. The sixth construction in the Delta Works project. The dam has locks to let ships through. The Haringvlietdam runs through the Haringvliet, connecting Voorne-Putten to Goeree-Overflakkee. The Haringvliet could, unlike other bodies of water, not just be closed off, as the Meuse and Rhine both ended into the Haringvliet. Instead, the Dutch built a complex of locks, about a kilometer long, which can move about 25 000 m³ of water per second. The dam consists of 17 locks, each of which is 56½ metres wide. The dam itself is just over 5 km (3.1 mi) long.
- 9 Brouwersdam. The Brouwersdam, built between 1962 and 1971, is another dam at the length of 6 km (3.7 mi), closing off the Brouwershavense Gat, subsequently creating the Grevelingenmeer. The water around the dam is up to 30 m deep. The closing of the Brouwersdam meant that some three thousand hectares of land were regained. Two years after completion, the N57 was opened, using most of the Delta Works to connect Zeeland to the mainland. A lock was installed in 1978, and Port Zélande, a marina and bungalowpark was opened halfway down the dam in the 1980s. A museum tramline runs across part of the dam as well. The Brouwersdam is also home to music event Concert at Sea since 2006.
- 10 Markiezaatskade. A 4 km (2.5 mi) long dam protecting the coast of North-Brabant near Bergen op Zoom, built between 1980 and 1983. Part of the dam was destroyed during a storm in 1982, delaying the completion somewhat. The dam runs mostly parallel to the Oesterdam, and together they make up several kilometers of the Scheldt-Rhine canal.
- 11 Oosterscheldekering (near the Deltapark Neeltje Jans). The Oosterscheldekering is one of the most impressive storm surge barriers in the region. The first plan aimed to place a dam here and close off the water behind it completely from the sea, turning the water into a freshwater lake. The project started with the creation of a couple of artificial islands in the 1960s and in 1973 about 5 km of the projected 9 km were dammed. Then, environmentalists and the fishery sector started protesting as the dams would cause environmental harm and destroy the local mussel and oyster industry. The project went back to the drawing board, and with a national cabinet crisis looming, it was decided that the remaining 4 km would become an open storm surge barrier that only closes when needed. It was opened on 4 October 1986 by Queen Beatrix.
- 12 Oesterdam. A dam in between Tholen and Zuid-Beveland, blocking the east side of the Oosterschelde. At 10.5 km (6.5 mi) it is the longest dam of the Delta Works. The dam was built to separate salt and fresh water streams from each other to not destroy the life in the Oosterschelde. The north end of the dam houses the Bergse Diepsluis, which is built on top of the remains of the drowned city of Reimerswaal.
- 13 Philipsdam. The Philipsdam is a dam near to the Grevenlingendam, closing the Krammer and Volkerak off from each other. The dam connects the Grevenlingendam to Sint Philipsland. Construction was started in 1967 with the building of the work island of Plaat van Vliet. One and a half years later the island had several locks being built on it for private ships and well as large container ships. The dam was the last project on the island, being completed February 2, 1987; it has the N257 running its length.
- 14 Bathse Spuisluis. The Bathse Spuisluis is funnily enough not created to keep the water out of the Netherlands, but instead to flush the Volkerak, Zoommeer, Markiezaatsmeer and Scheldt-Rhine canal from time to time with fresh water. The Bathse Spuisluis does this in cooperation with the Bathse Spuikanaal. Construction began in 1980 and was completed seven years later. The Spuisluis is at the end of the 8.7 km (5.4 mi) long Spuikanaal, which is 140 m (460 ft) wide and 7 m (23 ft) deep. The Spuisluis has a capacity of 10 m³ per second, or 8.5 million m³ of water per day.
- 15 Maeslantkering, Havennummer 882, Hoek van Holland, ☏ . M-F 10:00-16:00, Sa Su hol 11:00-17:00. It was opened in 1997. This storm surge barrier is one of the largest moving structures in the world. The free visitor's centre, het Keringhuis, does not just explain the history of the Maeslantkering, but also deals with the wider context of Dutch water management. Several times per day, guided tours are provided for €4 per person (most are in Dutch, some in English). Check the website for time and reservations. Once a year (usually in September), the barrier is tested. On that day, the place might relatively crowded, but it's also possible to see the barrier from the top of the dune next to it. Free.
- 16 Hartelkering. The Hartelkering is the youngest of the Delta Works, being completed in 1997. The kering has been closed twice since its completion. Whether the Hartelkering will be closed or not is decided by BOS (Beslis en Ondersteunend Systeem), a computer system created for this purpose. The Hartelkering and Maeslantkering are always closed at the same time.
- Walk or cycle up to the Oosterscheldekering, especially when it's very windy (7 bft or more).
- Spend a day at the Deltapark Neeltje Jans. Especially with kids, there're plenty of fun activities around to fill a day's out. Watch an earless seal show at the park, or even join the animals for a swim. It takes a serious fee or €55, but swimming (under professional guidance) with the seals in the park is a pretty special experience. For an even bigger thrill, opt for a swim session with the sharks.
- At the Deltapark, you can hop on a boat for a seal-spotting trip through the neighbouring Oosterschelde National Park.
- The Oosterschelde National Park has many dive sites, amongst which are Gorishoek/De Punt, Wemeldinge, Goese Sas derde breker, Stavenisse Keetenweg and Pijlers van de Zeelandbrug.
Eat, drink, and sleep
The visitor's centres are all meant as day trip destinations and there's no accommodation available in any of them. There's plenty of places to stay in the many towns, though. Renesse, Middelburg, Vlissingen and Hellevoetsluis are just a few of the most popular destinations in the region, and all have plenty of lodging and camping opportunities. Check the destination guides for individual listings.
The same goes for bars and restaurants, and for dinner your best option is to go to one of the towns. At the Haringvlietdam and in Deltapark Neeltje Jans, however, there are restaurants that serve lunch. Plates may include mossels (mussels), which are harvested from the Oosterschelde.
- Zoet of zout, Haringvlietplein 3, Stellendam, ☏ .
- Restaurant Deltapark Neeltje Jans, Faelweg 5, Vrouwenpolder (In the Deltapark). The theme park restaurant has a nice view and serves simple but good lunch dishes. On request, they cater (also dinner) for larger groups of 20 or more people.
- Rotterdam — Modern harbour city, being bombed to oblivion in the Second World War, modern architecture and art are blooming in the city of Europort.
- Hook of Holland — The gateway to England, with ferries to Harwich and Kingston upon Hull, as well as a popular beachfront.
- The Hague — Political capital of the Netherlands, with attractions from Madurodam to the Binnenhof and Mauritshuis.
- Dordrecht — Historically one of the six important cities of the County of Holland.
- Zierikzee — Historical centre of Schouwen-Duiveland.
- Tholen — Two joined peninsulas disconnected from the mainland by the Scheldt-Rhine Canal.
- Middelburg — The capital city of Zeeland.
- Westkapelle — Famous seaside town that is a popular summer retreat for many.
- Terneuzen — Mostly industrious city on the exclave of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.
- Het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe — A demonstration of how Zeeland might have looked if it hasn't had the Delta Works: Saeftinghe once was a town that was completely washed away during a flood and instead of being reclaimed, it became a nature reserve.
- Afsluitdijk — A long dike separating the Wadden Sea from the IJsselmeer, which in itself was formed as a result of the completion of this dike. It connects North Holland to Friesland.
- Noordoostpolder — A gigantic polder reclaimed from the Zuiderzee in the 1930s.
- Flevoland — Noordoostpolder 2.0 with the additions of randmeren (edge-lakes) to not harm the already existing land.