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Word of the Day: WATERKERING, barrier

Next Saturday (19 September), the Maeslantkering, the storm surge barrier in the Nieuwe Waterweg between Rotterdam and Hoek van Holland, will be closed for testing at 17.50 hours. Make sure that you witness this impressive annual event. It is the grand finale of a day full of fascinating tours, demonstrations in the information centre and other activities. You can read more about this event here: . The information centre publishes information about the closing time and activities on its website.

A WATERKERING is a ‘barrier’, a ’dam’ or a ‘dike’. The word KERING originates from the verb KEREN (to turn). KEREN can also mean ‘to turn back’, ‘to stem’, ‘to check’, ‘to stop’ or ‘to avert’. According to etymologist Nicoline van der Sijs KEREN is one of the oldest Dutch words. It was written down for the first time in the tenth century.

The verb is related to Old English ‘cerran’ which can be traced in English ‘char’ (‘chore’, Dutch: ‘klusje’) and in ‘charwoman’ (someone hired by the day to do household work). So a charwoman is a (re)‘turning woman’ usually hired for cleaning the house. The Dutch need to keep their country safe, clean and dry 24 hours a day. Water, the sea and the rivers, were life threatening and they still are. So the Dutch have always needed to stem the flow of water especially during storms and that’s why they call this activity ‘het water keren’. The low lying territory of the Netherlands is riddled with barriers, dams and dikes in all shapes and sizes.

Photo: Rijkswaterstaat
Photo: Rijkswaterstaat

The Maeslantkering (‘Maes’ = the river Maas; ‘lant = land and ‘kering’ means ‘barrier’) was the final stage of the Delta Works which began almost forty years earlier after the 1953 North Sea flood (Dutch: Watersnoodramp, literally ‘flood disaster’). After six years the construction of the Maeslantkering was opened on May 10, 1997 by Queen Beatrix. This innovative floating barrier is one of largest moving structures on Earth.

The two moving arms are as long as the Eiffel Tower, and each one weighs twice as much. The construction cost a mere 450 million euro. When a storm surge of 3 metres above normal sea level is expected, the barrier will be closed automatically. Incoming and outgoing ships are warned four hours before closing and after two hours the traffic at the Nieuwe Waterweg is stopped altogether. The dry docks that contain the gates are flooded half an hour before closing and the gates start to float. Two so-called ‘locomobiles’ move the gates towards each other. When they approach each other, water is let inside the hollows of the gates, and they sink down to the bottom of the waterway.

During the evening of November 8, 2007 the barrier was closed for the first time, due to a storm surge. In view of global climate change and its ensuing sea level rise we can be sure that this closure won’t have been the last time.