The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Rijkswaterstaat (RWS), the executive arm of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, signed a Memorandum of Agreement in 2004 to facilitate the sharing of information and expertise that will benefit the civil works capabilities of both organizations. The partnership supports collaborative efforts to enhance the integrated water resources management policies of both countries. USACE and RWS share a strong interest in addressing aging infrastructure, asset management, adaptation to climate change, and recapitalization.
Starting in 2008, staff representing the USACE Dam and Levee Safety Programs has met on a biennial basis with staff from the RWS Center for Water Management to exchange relevant technical information on each agency’s approach to assessing and managing risk associated with its respective dam and levee (or dike) projects.
Both quickly came to understand that the technical exchange was beneficial and that a more intense approach should be undertaken to improve the efficiency of the exchange efforts. To meet that goal, a staff exchange was organized and executed last year between the two agencies. This allowed for a senior risk manager from each agency to be assigned to the other for a 12- to 18-month period. On Oct. 1, 2010, Alex Roos, senior adviser from the Rijkswaterstaat Centre for Water Management, began his assignment with the USACE Risk Management Center (RMC). On Aug. 1, 2011, Jason Needham, senior consequence specialist from the USACE RMC, began his assignment with RWS.
The perspective of RWS staff members on levee safety and flood risk management and their experience in these fields is particularly valuable to USACE and its attempt to develop robust risk management policies. Even though the political and legal systems in each country are quite different, the challenges of managing flood risk are similar. Each organization is challenged to explain the current flood risk to policymakers and the general population; make investment decisions that optimize flood risk reduction; and determine the appropriate level of flood risk reduction when it comes to investing public funds.
Specific benefits from the partnership and related staff exchange are numerous and broad reaching. USACE staff learned a great deal from RWS staff, which has the benefit of experiences related to a mature, national approach to managing flood risk. RWS staff has generously offered its perspective in many areas as USACE continues in the early phases of developing its agency’s levee safety program. Additionally, RWS has developed a suite of detailed flood risk analysis tools over the past 20 years, and has shared the methodologies behind these tools with USACE, which is currently developing similar methodologies and risk assessment approaches. Conversely, RWS staff has benefited from learning about the USACE approach to broadly categorizing risks through the Dam or Levee Safety Action Classification, which has been a successful approach to managing and communicating flood risks for a large portfolio of flood risk reduction infrastructure on a consistent basis. Also the experiences in the United States with floodfighting, communicating during high-water situations, and use of national levee databases offer interesting insights for the Dutch practitioners.
Additionally, although the partnership and exchange focus primarily on flood risk management topics, the close relationship between staff in the two agencies has allowed for exchange of experiences and challenges on a broad range of topics, including how to retain organizational technical competency and dealing with challenges in today’s virtual team environment.
This article first appeared in the 2011-2012 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces publication.