1953 Dutch Flood

“During the weekend of Saturday, January 31, 1953, hurricane force winds over the North Sea generated a tremendous storm surge that flooded the low-lying coastal regions of the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. The peak high waters hit the coast in the early morning hours, surprising many people in their sleep. In the Netherlands, a country where 75 percent of the land lies either below or less than 3 percent above sea level, nearly 2000 people lost their lives.”1

“In August 2002 a flood caused by over a week of continuous heavy rains ravaged Europe, killing dozens, dispossessing thousands, and causing damage of billions of euros in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Croatia, as well as in Russia.”2

From the Dutch flood of 1953, to the Great Flood of Paris in 1910 and beyond the European floods of 2002, lies an index of indexes regarding the idea of historical floods, their impact and aftermath. European leaders have gathered to create a better understanding of how to prevent such disasters in the future several times. It took until the 20th century before Romans could deploy both the resources and technology to finally tame the powerful Tiber.3

However, since 1953 the Dutch have taken a zero-tolerance attitude towards flooding. Only 20 days after the flood, officials appointed the Delta Works committee that, in turn, formulated the “Deltaplan” we all know today. The plan entailed blocking the estuary mouths of the big rivers, building dams and storm surge barriers, installing sluices and locks, and heightening and strengthening dikes. Traces of flood devastation remain in the form of flood markers.

The Dutch boy who saves his country by plugging a dyke with his finger4 may be an international legend; for the Dutch, however, the hero is the polder model: expertise and technological advancement. Sharing their knowledge on water management with the world since 1614, when Adrian Boot, hydraulic engineer, was invited to assist Mexico City to drain the lakes in order to prevent flooding. The Dutch expert rejected the idea of drainage, preserved the lakes and proposed regulation instead, reimagining the Dutch hydraulic technology to suit the environmental and social character of the island of Mexico City.5

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Index of flood markers around Europe.

  1. https://hazards.colorado.edu/article/the-1953-north-sea-flood-in-the-netherlands-impact-and-aftermath
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_European_floods
  3. https://apps.carleton.edu/medievalrome/tiber/?story_id=1299594
  4. https://www.ft.com/content/44c2d2ee-422c-11ea-bdb5-169ba7be433d
  5. "In the Art of My Profession": Adrian Boot and Dutch Water Management in Colonial Mexico City https://www.jstor.org/stable/24394833?seq=1

1992 Guadalajara Explosions

An electrolytic reaction can, at the same time,  make a zinc-carbon battery work, but also deprive the Guadalajara city of its life. Under the district of Analco Colonia Atlas, the new water zinc-coated iron pipes that formed the sewerage system of the city were built in a contiguous distance from an existing steel gasoline pipeline. The materials in combination with the underground humidity caused the aforementioned electrolytic reaction. The steel pipe corroded and created a hole in the pipeline. Gasoline found its way out and entered the main sewerage system.

From this integrated underground system of the main sewer and gasoline pipeline, the metro railway could not be excluded. In order to allow the future expansion of metro lines in Guadalajara, the sewer pipes were built in an U-shape, while an inverted syphon was meant to push away the fluids against gravity. However, the design was not flawless, because there was no provision for the removal of gas fumes that subsequently caused their accumulation.

The Guadalajara 1992 Sewer Gas Explosion Disaster was determined from those two factors. On Wednesday, April 22, 1992 a series of sewer gasoline explosions drew an unforgettable line both in the map of the city and in the memory of the people. Over a period of four hours, tore apart 6 miles of sewer pipes and turned heavily trafficked streets, like Gante and 20 de Noviembre, into a pile of rubbles. The multiple blasts caused the death of 206 people; the injury of 1460 people; the damage of 1,148 buildings;  the destroyance of 350 businesses and 505 vehicles; and the housing shortage for 15,000 people.

Prior to the explosion, the residents had informed The Guadalajara Fire Department that there is an odor of gasoline coming from the depths of the sewerage system. Together with SIAPA, on Tuesday, April 21, 1992, they visited the Reforma district neighborhood, which was the origin of the complaints.They engaged the state civil defence unit and paradoxically enough,notified Pemex Petroleum to assist in diagnosing the problem. Although never took the blame, Pemex’s history in prior industrial disasters, the amount of required litres of hexane that is need to cause an explosion of this magnitude, the blanket of the fuel covering 16 square blocks near La Nogalera (area of Pemex facilities that is close to the explosion) and the fact that Pemex donate 40 million pesos to "La Asociación 22 de Abril en Guadalajara", might shed the light on the main causes of the catastrophe. However, everything, from the research to the real data, remained blurred.

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Corrosion and hole in larger gasoline pipeline and smaller steel water pipe on top.Photo courtesy of Jose M. Malo, Electrical Research Institute,



Subsidence is the sudden sinking or gradual downward settling of the ground's surface with little or no horizontal motion. It may be caused by natural processes or by human activities. The former includes aquifer-system compaction, drainage of organic soils, underground mining, hydro compaction, natural compaction, sinkholes, and thawing permafrost. Human activities include sub-surface mining or extraction of underground fluids, e. g. petroleum, natural gas, or groundwater.

Land subsidence is a global problem. Most cases are driven by the exploitation of groundwater by human activities to provide water for agriculture, industries, and daily water consumption in a city. There are profound problems that associated with the exploitation of groundwater such as, land subsidence, an increase of energy required to pump deeper well, a higher concentration of natural and manmade pollutants in the aquifers, saltwater intrusion, disrupted water ecosystem habitat, severe weather condition from the increase of precipitation, and to some extend impacting the local climate.

Mexico City was initially surrounded by Lake Texcoco and at the end of the 19th century, the city successfully drained the lake basin through the Grand drainage canal to the city of Tequixquiac. This effort of flood protection collectively sends surface water out of the city while extracting groundwater causes not enough natural water left to recharge the aquifer and resulted in the occurrence of land subsidence. Subsidence not only exposes new areas to flooding but also diminished the capacity of the Grand canal until it could no longer drain using gravity alone and later need to develop pump systems and deep drainage system.

In 2017, a woman named Maria Teresa has her apartment sink into the ground during an earthquake in Mexico City. The problem arises when insurance companies look for the cause of this collapse either it's by the earthquake or groundwater extraction. The answer could determine whether or not Maria Teresa and others like her will become homeless because subsidence-related damage is uninsurable in Mexico City while there is a robust insurance plan for earthquake-related disasters. The city has no plan to stop groundwater extraction, therefore subsidence is inevitable. From an insurance perspective, subsidence is not a disaster but a plan. Mexico City's failure to manage the surface water as a resource and aquifer overdraft now resulted in the city problem of flooding, scarcity of clean water for consumption, and other cases like Maria Teresa.

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Mexico City drinking itself to the ground

Sources:  “Why Is Mexico City Sinking?” Mexican Routes Visit and Explore Mexico, August 15, 2020. https://mexicanroutes.com/why-is-mexico-city-sinking/.

  1. Kiley Fellow Lecture: Seth Denizen, "Thinking Through Soil: Case Study from the Mezquital Valley", YouTube Video, 1:14:58, “Harvard GSD,” September 22, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klJb9M-_3cg.
  2. Moran, Tara, Janny Choy, and Carolina Sanchez. “Understanding California's Groundwater.” Water in the West. Stanford University. Accessed May 2, 2021. https://waterinthewest.stanford.edu/groundwater/overdraft/.
  3. Lewis, Alan Christopher & Torres, Janet. (2013). “The Ghosts of Lake Texcoco Still Haunting Mexico City.” The Drop, Water Management and Hydrological Science Program, Texas A&M University, Volume 5, Fall 2013.

Texcoco Airport

Every city has an airport, and therefore an environmental conflict behind it. These infrastructures trigger landscape controversies and act as negotiators of the territory with its depletion.

In 2018, Manuel López Obrador decided to cancel the construction of Texcoco airport of Mexico City, valued at 13,000 million dollars, and based on the results of a questioned popular consultation.1 They argued that it would be costly to prevent it from sinking because of the old lake’s swampy ground where the airport was located. In addition, ecologists argue that the lake bed provided water for Mexico and prevented flooding.

The abandoned construction is now part of a project to conserve 12,200 hectares of marshland in what was once the massive lake of Texcoco before Spanish settlers in the 17th century began draining the water to prevent flooding in their burgeoning settlement. Groups of scholars keep on developing studies to validate the environmental properties of the affected area as a fight against the ambitious project designed by Foster and Partners.

Authorities point to recent floods as proof that maintenance would have been difficult and say that the project didn’t contemplate many of the urgent dilemmas. To cancel more than 600 contracts that were left in limbo, some 13,000 million pesos (603 million dollars) had to be paid.

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Newspaper’s page which highlights the airport’s cancellation.

Sources: https://apnews.com/

  1. AMLO imposes the cancellation of the Texcoco airport, https://www.forbes.com