Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Its Flood Recedes, Europe Counts the Lessons Learned

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Its Flood Recedes, Europe Counts the Lessons Learned

Article excerpt

The high waters of the "flood of the century" along the Oder River between Poland and Germany have largely receded, but the long-term questions about how best to "manage" the river remain open.

Scientists point to developments in computer modeling that should provide better data to help head off trouble the next time.

International cooperation got a boost from the flood, too. Polish Interior Minister Leszek Miller met with German Construction Minister Klaus Topfer and Czech Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Skalicki last week to agree on short-term practical flood prevention measures. Environmentalists are calling for a rethinking of river management. The German group BUND has called on the German government to drop its plans to "canalize" several rivers - straightening them out to turn them into watery Autobahns - and to lobby the Czech Republic and Poland to hold back on further canalization of the Oder and the Elbe Rivers. In a recent press conference in Berlin, Ernst Paul Dorfler, a BUND expert on waterways, also said, "In the future, riverbanks have to be off limits for housing." Some environmentalists have gone so far as to suggest that residents of the Oderbruch region - under threat for weeks but never completely flooded - move elsewhere. The area is filled land, a project carried out some 250 years ago under Frederick the Great, whose engineers redirected the Oder to turn marshes into farmland. Not surprisingly, the evacuation solution has not proved popular. But Florian Engels, spokesman for the Environment Ministry of the state of Brandenburg, agrees with the activists, saying, "We need more flood-plain acreage to give the river someplace to go." His ministry is planning to add more than 5,500 acres to the nearly 12,500 acres already available to absorb floods. The new territory is mostly farmland, with only a few inhabitants who will have to move. Across Germany and other countries, canalizing has been blamed for the "100-year floods" that the Rhine seems to be experiencing about every other year. The Oder, though somewhat canalized, is closer to its natural state than many European rivers. …

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