Can humanity influence the weather? Maddie Akkermans, Managing Director of The Weather Makers thinks it can. In fact, this view is reflected in the name and vision of her company. “We can create a positive impact when we see things in a bigger context and let nature be part of the solution,” she explains. “Whether it is construction, dredging or other infrastructural developments, we help to identify and create business cases for combining the work with ecosystem regeneration projects. This adds societal and ecological value to the overall projects, and it can help companies and consortia have a competitive lead.” By becoming a member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), The Weather Makers is making their unique nature-based approach part of the Dutch water sector’s response to worldwide challenges.
It all started in 2016, when Ties van der Hoeven, hydrological engineer and co-founder of The Weather Makers, got involved in a dredging project in Egypt. One of the largest lagoons was on the verge of collapse and fish life was disappearing. In the ‘80s, some inlets to the Mediterranean Sea had been created to allow for more flushing and to attract fish. However, sedimentation kept closing these connections. Ties and his dredging company were asked to do something about the inlets and to come up with solutions to prevent them closing.
This was the moment when Ties and his colleagues started to think about ways of recovering the full watershed system. The extremely rich sediments and soils that were heaping up on the bottom of the lake showed that at one time, natural life in the surrounding hills had been very lush and fertile. Using this rich fertiliser to restore plant life in the surrounding area sparked more and more ideas on how to use natural eco regeneration opportunities. It was the beginning of The Weather Makers, and the start of the dream of turning the Sinai green once again. The steps that need to be taken towards a green Sinai can be found on a dedicated and inspirational website: greenthesinai.com.
“Greening the Sinai is a bit of an ambitious plan,” Maddie admits with a smile. “And yes, there are many complicating factors and sometimes conflicting interests in the wider region. But the good thing about this vision of a green Sinai, is that it helps us to steer our decisions at all levels, not only in North Africa, but anywhere in the world. Any assignment that in one way or another helps us improve our knowledge and expertise to successfully regenerate the Sinai, we will accept. Business that is just business and nothing more, we will decline. If one day we can actually achieve a green Sinai, then anything is possible. That is why an image of a regreened Sinai as a healthy green heart of the world in our ‘s-Hertogenbosch office is such a source of inspiration for us.”
“Greening the Sinai may sound big to some people,” she continues, “but the world’s challenges are not waiting for half-hearted solutions. Besides, in the Netherlands, we are so used to living amidst such big solutions that we rarely even notice them. Think of all the visitors that come to our famous places like the Delta Works, the Afsluitdijk, and our reclaimed lands. ‘That is so grand’, the visitors tell us. But we saw them as children. We grew up with them. It is in our DNA to think of big and integrated solutions, especially in the context of water.”
This unified way of thinking big is something that the Netherlands is good at, Maddie believes. “And we need to stick to this approach of seeing things in a big context. What The Weather Makers adds to this approach, is to re-think the typical large-scale engineering challenges and turn them into solutions in which the original natural ecosystem is also taken into account. Instead of zooming in, we often zoom out to find the natural solution that fits the wider setting. And that often leads to sustainable solutions.”
“When thinking of some of the coastline projects we are involved in, we also try to take in the narrative of the full hydrological cycle,” Maddie adds. “The watershed, the hillside, the river sediments, the organic material heaping up because of erosion. Putting these pieces of the puzzle together makes it possible to restore the water cycle in such a way that the system becomes sustainable. And yes, as humans we can help manage such systems, as long as we know our role as part of nature.”
The Weather Makers presents itself as ‘holistic engineers’. To some this may sound rather metaphysical, Maddie admits. “But looking at challenges holistically does not mean that we are not standing with both feet on the ground. We are very to the point, very Dutch, very solution focused. Our team consists of engineers with various backgrounds, and we have a close network of socio-economic analysts, IT developers and other specialists that help us create the right solutions.”
In addition to large scale projects and challenges, such as the Sinai regeneration project or its proposals for West African coastal zone reconstruction, The Weather Makers also helps develop down to earth solutions such as software for ships by understanding the effects of sea currents, tides, weather forecasts and other natural influences. The Weather Makers’ assignments are also linked to dredging works where instead of looking at dredging material as an expensive cost item, it can also be used as a valuable source for nature-based reconstruction. This approach can lead to competitive advantages, for example in tendering procedures.
“Imagine the assignment is to deepen a canal and the idea is to create an island to get rid of the dredging material. Our approach is not only to create an island, but, to create a bird sanctuary for instance. That means that we step in as the dredging company’s creative engineers, putting nature and ecosystems at the centre of their solutions. It means that we come up with an ecological design that considers factors such as the organic composition of the dredging material, the expected rainfall, rocky sides, soft shores, mussel populations to attract birds etcetera. Do you want an island, or do you want a bird sanctuary? The one does not exclude the other.”
Maddie is happy that her organisation has become part of the Netherlands Water Partnership. “We love to inspire and be inspired,” she says. “We are team players and we want to get in touch with organisations that recognise the value of our approach. I am convinced that now, and in the near future, nature-based solutions will increasingly determine the approach through which the Dutch water sector can make a difference. Let’s use our combined strengths and let’s connect.”