De Versteende Rivier
A city brimming with water, an extensively paved river, and a sea that becomes increasingly assertive.
Rob Overmeer and writer Afke van der Toolen embark on a journey of discovery through the enchanting world of water. The destination: a series of publications and an exhibition.

(work in process)
Water. Wherever you look, it's everywhere. In canals and grachten, in ditches, ponds, and water playgrounds. You sit on a terrace boat, with water as a romantic backdrop. You take a stroll along the singels, with water as a picturesque guide. As if it's all just natural.

But it's not. Behind those tranquil canals and singels lies a completely different reality. A mechanized universe of pumps and pumping stations, locks and sluices, GPS gadgets, and control computers. This is the domain of 'the Watermasters,' the men and women at the controls. The experts who manage water levels, take measurements, operate barriers, locks, and pumping stations, depending on whether rain or drought is anticipated.

With this project, we aim to showcase these two realities—the contrast between them and their interconnectedness. We uncover the historical roots and look ahead to a future where old certainties no longer exist.

The city Leiden is the second most water-rich city in the Netherlands, while simultaneously being one of the most paved.
Why now, and why Leiden?

Floods and heatwaves, rising sea levels, and shrinking glaciers. All these manifestations of global climate change impact the water and water systems in and around Leiden.

This is already being felt. Take the months-long drought last summer, for instance: to prevent salinization of nature and agriculture around Leiden, ensure the safety of dikes, and prevent damage to the inner-city quays, monuments, and houses, the flow direction of the Leidse Rijn near Utrecht had to be reversed. An intervention that is already occurring much more frequently than predicted twenty years ago.

Leiden is the second most water-rich city in the Netherlands and simultaneously one of the most paved. Moreover, this region is near the sea and in a low-lying "bowl." The water masters of today and tomorrow are facing unprecedented challenges. Our project combines visual art with historical objects and in-depth stories. The primary focus is on Leiden, but because water knows no boundaries, we also extend further. Our water system serves as a mirror for the national and even international situation.
For our research, we received a grant from the Leids Mediafonds. 

Publications will begin in late 2023 in the Leids Dagblad. Additionally, we are working towards an exhibition and publication in the form of a book. We have the full cooperation of the following organizations: Hoogheemraadschap Rijnland, Hoogheemraadschap Stichtse Rijnlanden, Gemeente Leiden, Erfgoed Leiden, Provincie Zuid-Holland, Rijkswaterstaat, and Leiden University.

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