9.3. Environmental History of the Netherlands, the Polder Model and Institutionalization
The environmental history of the Netherlands greatly contributed to how the Dutch society perceives and works with their water resources. Water has been both a challenge and a blessing to the inhabitants of the country, and much of Dutch history revolves around adaptation to their watery environment. Some would even say that water is in the Dutch genes (Dutch Water Sector, 2016). Up to about 1000 A.D. Holland was not a very habitable place, it consisted mainly of marshes (low, wet land) and people built mounds (terps) to protect themselves from floods and sea surging. In the early Middle Ages, the western part of the Netherlands still mainly consisted of peatland. Villagers drained the land themselves by digging ditches, building dams, and dikes (Rijkswaterstaat, 2016), but even then water management was based on cooperation among several owners and users of land. Cooperation and 'the polder model' (a form of cooperation in search for the best compromise) have been typical of the Dutch approach to water management. From the beginning it was clear that the only way to manage water problems was to work together. The land was repeatedly ravaged by floods and large parts disappeared into the sea. The Zuiderzee (a large inland sea) for instance, was formed by such a flood around 1300 (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2016). From the 13th century onwards larger co-operatives were formed, based on common interests in safe water. The draining of pools and lakes with the help of windmills (now part of the country's well known international imagery) started after 1400 (Photograph 9.2), when major sea-defences had already been constructed (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2016).
Photograph 9.2. Dutch windmill
The 3,000 polders (see figure 1 for an example) that now exist in the Netherlands were predominantly created by drainage with the help of windmills and pumping stations. The last big natural water disaster that the people of the Netherlands endured was in 1953 (Photograph 9.3). Also in more recent times cooperation has remained necessary, involving several policy areas, to address a multiplicity of water-related interests.
Photograph 9.3. Cooperation to build dikes after the great storm of 1953
The Netherlands Ministry of ‘Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment’ is responsible for the Dutch drinking water supply. They currently work together with the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, which coordinates water management and management of state waters. Rijkswaterstaat, founded in 1798 as the "Bureau voor den Waterstaat" is part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Its role is the practical execution of the public works and water management, including the construction and maintenance ofwaterways and roads, and flood protection and prevention. The National public health and environment agency also reports to Dutch government yearly. There are lower levels of government that are also involved: -Provinces (for regional environmental policy and regulations, ownership water supply companies); -Municipalities (for sewerage, urban drainage, ownership water supply companies); -Regional water boards (for operational regional water management, urban waste water treatment). The Dutch water supply has been institutionalized by national legislation since the 1950’s. Quality standards were introduced in the water supply act of 1957 and at the same time measures were taken to reduce water pollution. To prevent direct discharge of untreated sewage into surface waters, wastewater treatment plants were constructed by water boards and municipalities. But by that time this was not yet handled in a systematic way (Reinhard, 2009). The Netherlands established the Royal Association of Drinking Water Supply in the Netherlands (KVWN) already in 1899. In the course of the last century small water supply companies have been integrated progressively into regional public companies (this took about 50 years). This resulted in 11 water supply companies for the country in 2006. To reach 99% coverage for Dutch households in water supply the government provided financial support between 1950 and 1970 (TU Delft, 2016). KVWN was the birthplace of organisations such as VEWIN, Kiwa, Aqua for All. VEWIN is a Union of Dutch Water Supply Companies. There are also very strong collaborations on research; Kiwa and KWR (Watercycle Research Institute) are, for instance central partners in joint research programs, as defined by water companies. Most drinking water companies in the Netherlands are publically owned private, non-for-profit companies. These are full cost-covering, without municipal or governmental subsidies. In 2009, there was a new Drinking Water Act for the Netherlands (Helpdeskwater, 2016) with new provisions regarding production and distribution of drinking water, and the organisation of the public drinking water supply. It covers, for instance risk assessment on the continuity of drinking water supply, management of disruption and emergency supplies and legal obligations/tasks of the water supply companies. This new act already takes into account new European developments, such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Directive on Flood Protection and the Framework Directive on Marine Strategy (Directives 2007/60/EC and 2008/56/EC). In the 2009 act several directives were formulated. Water supply companies shall: -operate a sustainable and efficient public water supply, -build, operate and maintain the necessary infrastructure, -supply drinking water in accordance with legal standards, -connect consumers and supply drinking water at charges which are fair, transparent and non-discriminating, -ensure production and distribution from source to point of supply, -contribute to the protection of water resources, -contribute to quality assurance between point of supply and the point of use (tap), e.g., through inspection and public information. Taking into account the very positive International reputation of the Dutch people for their water management, it seems the ‘polder model’ has been successful in providing Dutch citizens with safety, and enough, good quality water (Dutchwaterauthorities, 2015).
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