In fall of 1999 after a serious sequence of extreme floods in Germany and elsewhere during the late 1990, Prof. Frank Tönsmann, of the University of Kassel, suggested to hold a meeting on floods, which he wanted to host in Kassel. His idea was to concentrate on floods as the subject - and the only subject - of the conference. In 1999 he invited the international research community to the city of Kassel in North Germany for the first Floods Meeting held International Symposium on Flood Defence, 20-23 September 2000 and invited me for a keynote lecture. I enthusiastically supported his idea, and my keynote lecture was the first draft of my much read paper on Floods (J.Hydrology, Vol.267,pp.2-11). Although the meeting was sponsored only by German organizations, it attracted a surprising number of experts from many parts of the world. The idea caught on, in particular in China, represented by Zhaoyin WANG, and he promoted the idea to have a second, the Second Floods Conference, in Beijing, in 2002. At that meeting it was suggested to establish a more formal body of experts, who could advise on the topics and supervise the quality of the floods conference. So during the conference, a number of scientists and others (invited by Prof. Z.Y.Wang) got together to create a standing committee on the Flood Defence Symposia and I was asked to chair this committee – which I accepted. The Chinese just have created an Institute for Flood Disaster Research (I do not remember the exact title). This institute was offering to host the secretariat and conduct whatever business is necessary for this committee, in cooperation with the chairman. Therefore, Dr. Wang was asked to be the secretary general for this committee (apparently, the Chinese go for grand titles: their first proposal included the creation of a president and a number of vice presidents for this committee, but we changed that to chair and vice chairs, and simple secretary. The Flood Committee was formed, and the Government of China graciously agreed to host and finance the secretariat for this committee.
I felt very strongly that for this type of activity a loose organizational structure is enough - assisted through secretarial service of some existing organization, who with the help of the chairman would try at each ISFD meeting to arrange for the next meeting. A meeting during each ISFD meeting of the Ad hoc committee would provide the feedback on success or failure of certain topics, with its members expressing some sort of consensus through a quite informal voting process, including the selection of the next chairman. I think that this loose structure is what appeals to local water administrators - and it was for them that the ISFD was set up in the first place. In my opening address to the ISFD/FM3 I tried to outline which topics ISFD should have, with the essentials repeated in a short appendix to this letter.
From the beginning, many International Associations had expressed interest in making ISFD part of their organization and use existing structures for organizing the conferences. I have been strongly against this. I much appreciate co-sponsorship of IAHR, IAHS and others, and was very pleased that they informed their members about the conferences. However, my vision - and I think that of the organizers of the first ISFD - was to provide a forum for water administrators and researchers to interact outside of the usual structure of conferences of international organizations. This is why I as former president of IAHR co-operated with ISFD, because I did not see any competition with the established professional associations. Practitioners would want to discuss their experience, and scientists would understand better what the problems are to which scientific attention should be addressed. The forum for the water manager, which was set up in Nijmegen, was an excellent example of this function of the ISFD.By Erich J. Plate, Chair of LOC of ISFD1