Replacing engineering structures

Innovative approach to locks, dams and storm surge barriers

The Netherlands: a land of water. Particularly during the last century, we built a lot of hydraulic infrastructure, literally to take water in the right direction, keep our feet dry and make smooth and safe transport possible. Locks, dams, storm surge barriers and pumping stations – also known as hydraulic infrastructure – are the control valves in the water system that allow us to combine the different functions which that system provides. A large proportion of the infrastructure has been in place for decades. The ageing of the materials, as well as changes in the climate, functions and regulations, mean that those structures are urgently in need of replacement, upgrading or renovation.

Links in a network

In addition, the different structures are links in the network. If one structure fails, there will be immediate domino effects. And so, as we replace different structures, this is a perfect opportunity to look at the infrastructure system as a whole and to optimise it in the light of the functions of the water system. That involves looking 50 to 100 years ahead so that the impact of things like climate change can also be taken into account.
Replacing infrastructure
Research by the Economic Institute for Construction (EIB) shows that a total of €250 billion will be needed between now and 2030 to replace roads, railways, municipal infrastructure, flood management structures and underground infrastructure. EIB assumes approximately €20 billion will be needed between now and 2030 for hydraulic infrastructure. Further investments will be needed for the period after 2030.

Scale model of navigation lock in IJmuiden, the Netherlands

To provide the best possible advice relating to this major challenge, Deltares is researching:

  • The relationship (functional and otherwise) between the engineering structure requiring replacement and the associated network. This provides a picture of the structures that play a critical role in the larger system.
  • Wear and tear, and the ageing, of the structure. How long can a lock, dam or storm surge barrier last? Which forces and processes determine ageing and how can we control them?
  • What are the priorities? This makes it possible to set up a timetable indicating which structures need to be replaced, and when. What is feasible and – not unimportantly – what is affordable and/or where can we make savings?