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“Water governance in the
Netherlands has an excellent
track record in several areas,
and its management is a multi-
level public responsibility”
“A global reference for
water management”
“A robust and adjustable
institutional and policy
framework”
- flood defense
- water quantity
- drainage
- water quality
- waste water treatment
- drinking water supply
WATER GOVERNANCE IN THE NETHERLANDS:
FIT FOR THE FUTURE? © OECD 2014
(Article 3.9, Water Act) and the canal dykes of the regional water authorities, while this
responsibility is now carried out by the central government. Third, muskrat and coypus7
control have recently been transferred to regional water authorities.
Figure 1.4. Institutional mapping for flood defence
ADVISORY
GROUPS
Regional water authorities (24)
[Most of the primary and all
secondary flood defence]
National Water Authority
[Small part of primary flood defence]
EU
(Flood Directive]
Provinces
(12)
IPO
Municipalities
(408)
VNG
UvW
Ministry of Infrastructure
and the Environment
PBL KNMI
Advisory Committee
on Water
Research
centres and
think tanks
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
International Water
Commissions
[Rhine , Scheldt,
Meuse, Ems]
Management of flood defence structures (dikes,
dunes, muskrats and coypus control)
Regulation (safety standards)
Financing of flood defence structures
Data gathering and sharing
OTHER
ACTORS
MAIN ACTORS
INTEREST
AND INFLUENTIAL
GROUPS
Advisory Committee
on Legal Water and
Public Work Affairs
Council for
the Environment
and Infrastructure
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
Supervision of flood defence structures
Strategic planning and advice
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
WATER GOVERNANCE IN THE NETHERLANDS: FIT FOR THE FUTURE? © OECD 2014
shortage in freshwater supply (see Chapter 2). Depending on geographical areas, these
can be temporary or permanent and have different origins: aridness, changes in
groundwater flows, or different chemical composition of groundwater. Managing the
quantity of surface water and groundwater, and achieving and maintaining certain water
levels is also a shared responsibility across levels of government.
Figure 1.5. Institutional mapping for water quantity management
Regarding surface water, the state manages the so-called “main water management
system” (the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel), the Wadden Sea, the river deltas, the major rivers
and a number of large canals), while the regional water authorities manage the regional
water system (Figure 1.5). The precise boundaries of the main water management system
and the regional water systems are contained in maps included in the annex of existing
water laws and regulations.
The latest developments relate to groundwater management. In the Water Act, this
area falls under the responsibility of the regional water authorities, with some specific
duties allocated to the provinces and municipalities. For example, the provinces levy the
ADVISORY
GROUPS
Provinces (12)
[groundwater]
Municipalities
(408)
[Urban
groundwater]
PBL KNMI
National Water Authority
[Main water system*]
Regional water authorities (24)
[Regional water systems
and groundwater]
Operational management for water
systems
Operational management for inland
waterways
Regulation (quantitative status and threshold
values)
Strategic planning and advice (groundwater quality
policy, spatial functions)
*The main water systems include the main rivers, Lake Ijssel, the Wadden Sea and the North Sea.
EU
[Water Directives]
INTEREST AND
INFLUENTIAL GROUPS
IPO
VNG
UvWMAIN ACTORS
Ministry of Infrastructure
and the Environment
OTHER
ACTORS
Delta Commissioner
Advisory Committee
on Water
Research
centres and
think tanks
International Water
Commissions [Rhine ,
Scheldt, Meuse]
Advisory Committee on
Legal Water and Public
Work Affairs
Council for
the Environment
and Infrastructure
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
Financing (general taxes, groundwater tax)
Data gathering and sharing on ecological status
(quantitative)
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
38 – 1. INTERLOCKING WATER MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS
WATER GOVERNANCE IN THE NETHERLANDS: FIT FOR THE FUTURE? © OECD 2014
groundwater tax and issue licenses for three types of groundwater abstraction.
Municipalities are responsible for the groundwater level in urban areas to preclude or
limit, as far as possible, any structurally adverse influence on the water level (too high or
too low).
A unique function carried out by the regional water authorities consists in “keeping
the territory dry”. This function is at the heart of the Dutch physical “polder – reclaimed
land – approach”. The Dutch word polder refers to areas of ground that are lower than the
surrounding waters where the water level is artificially regulated. In a broad sense, it may
refer to all areas that have been reclaimed from the water. The Netherlands has
3 891 polders, and half of the total polder surface area in Europe is on Dutch soil.8
Intensive and systematic drainage has been critical to protect the Dutch population
and economy in reclaimed areas. Such a function is separate but inherently linked to the
existential risk of flooding of low-lying areas that the Netherlands faces. Regional water
authorities are responsible for this backbone function of maintaining the watercourses,
monitoring water levels and pumping to maintain the required level (Figure 1.6). Through
this function, they also create the “natural infrastructure” for urban development,
economic growth and recreation, effectively enabling, implementing and operating the
communities’ spatial and land-use decisions.
Figure 1.6. Institutional mapping for drainage
ADVISORY
GROUPS
Regional water authorities (24)
EU
(Water Directives]
Provinces
(12)
IPO
Municipalities (408)
[urban stormwater
and groundwater]
VNG
UvW
Ministry of
Infrastructure
and the
Environment
PBL
KNMI
Advisory
Committee
on Water
Research
centres and
think tanks
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
Creation and management of drainage
infrastructures
Regulation (spatial and land use)
Data gathering and sharing
OTHER
ACTORS
MAIN ACTORS
INTEREST AND
INFLUENTIAL GROUPS
Advisory Committee
on Legal Water and
Public Work Affairs
Council for the
Environment and
Infrastructure
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
Implementation of spatial plans
Strategic spatial planning and advice (Spatial Planning Act; Water
Act; national, regional and local spatial plans; zoning plans)
Construction
and housing
associations
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
1. INTERLOCKING WATER MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS – 39
WATER GOVERNANCE IN THE NETHERLANDS: FIT FOR THE FUTURE? © OECD 2014
Water quality management
The protection and improvement of water quality falls under the state (main water
management system) and the regional water authorities (regional waters).9
The national
government formally co-ordinates and facilitates the implementation of the Water
Framework Directive, and is responsible for national policy (e.g. setting national
standards) (Figure 1.7). Regional water authorities are responsible for operational
management, including planning, licensing discharges, enforcement and evaluation. They
also oversee urban wastewater treatment. Responsibility for groundwater quality is linked
to broader soil protection policy, the implementation of which belongs to municipalities
and provinces.
Figure 1.7. Institutional mapping for water quality management
Sewerage and wastewater treatment
Wastewater treatment has become a major component of regional water authorities’
tasks and revenues in recent decades. They currently manage about 350 wastewater
treatment plants for the treatment of urban wastewater coming from households and
businesses (van Rijswick and Havekes, 2012). They can contract out services
(e.g. operation and maintenance tasks) to the private sector. In one specific case, a
wastewater treatment plant has been based upon a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer)
contract. To carry out these responsibilities, regional water authorities charge a
wastewater treatment fee, and both regional water authorities and the state charge a
pollution tax for direct discharges into surface water.
INTEREST AND
INFLUENTIAL GROUPS
ADVISORY GROUPS
National Water Authority [Main water system*]
EU
[Water Directives]
Provinces (12) [groundwater]
IPO
VNG
Regional water authorities (24) [Regional water systems]
UvW
Municipalities (408) [groundwater]
PBL
KNMI
Delta Commissioner
Operational management for water systems
(licencing discharge, enforcement, monitoring,
evaluation)
Regulation (quality standards and emission-based
measures)
Data gathering and sharing on ecological
status of water (qualitative)
*The main water systems include the main rivers,
Lake Ijssel, the Wadden Sea and the North Sea.
Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment
MAIN ACTORS
Advisory Committee
on Water
Research centres
and think tanks
International Water
Commissions [Rhine ,
Scheldt, Meuse, Ems]
Advisory Committee on
Legal Water and Public
Work Affairs
Council for the
Environment and
Infrastructure
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
Strategic planning and advice (groundwater
quality policy, spatial functions)
Financing (general taxes, pollution tax,
regional water authority tax)
VEWIN
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
40 – 1. INTERLOCKING WATER MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS
WATER GOVERNANCE IN THE NETHERLANDS: FIT FOR THE FUTURE? © OECD 2014
Responsibility for sewerage is entrusted to the 408 municipalities in the Netherlands,
by the Environmental Management Act, compelling them to draw up a sewerage plan, the
preparation of which must involve regional water authorities (Figure 1.8). The same
regulation obliges each municipality to ensure that wastewater discharged from premises
situated within its territory is collected in a public sewer and transported to the
wastewater treatment plant. The municipality can cover the costs incurred by means of a
sewerage tax. This municipal responsibility is closely linked to the regional water
authorities’ duties associated with water quality and wastewater treatment as the public
sewer is connected to regional water authorities’ wastewater treatment plant (the so-called
wastewater cycle).
Figure 1.8. Institutional mapping for sewerage and wastewater treatment
Recently, targets for wastewater treatment have been increasingly influenced by the
river basin management plans developed under the EU Water Framework Directive,
instead of independent national and provincial policies. The 2011 Administrative
Agreement on Water Affairs includes options for a more cost-effective organisation of
wastewater treatment, ranging from further co-operation between municipalities and
regional water authorities in the collection, transport and treatment of wastewater, to joint
collection of taxes. Regional water authorities and municipalities have self-regulated
benchmarking for sewage collection and wastewater treatment.
ADVISORY
GROUPS
EU
[Water Directives]
Provinces (12)
Ministry of
Infrastructure and
the Environment
Advisory
Committee
on Water
Research
centres and
think tanks
Regional water
authorities (24)
Municipalities (408)
Collection and transport of sewerage water
Treatment of wastewater (350 wastewater treatment
plants)
Regulation – requirements for urban wastewater discharge
Financing (regional water authorities’ tax, municipal
sewerage tax)
Strategic planning (sewerage plans)
INTEREST AND
INFLUENTIAL GROUPS
IPO
VNG
UvW
MAIN ACTORS OTHER
ACTORS
Advisory Committee
on Legal Water and
Public Work Affairs
Council for the
Environment and
Infrastructure
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
Benchmarking – monitoring –
performance evaluation
Data gathering and sharing
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
1. INTERLOCKING WATER MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS – 41
Drinking water supply
The Drinking Water Act sets up the organisation of the drinking water supply in the
Netherlands and entrusts government bodies with the responsibility to ensure the
sustainable security of the public drinking water supply (Figure 1.9), with the central
government playing a central role. The responsibility for supplying drinking water is
entrusted to ten drinking water companies (previously more than 200). These are
semi-public bodies operating under private law with their shares owned by the provinces
and municipalities. Therefore, rather than levy a “tax” they charge a “price” for the
drinking water they supply to households and firms. In 2004, parliament banned private
sector provision from water supply, but in practice, drinking water companies contract
out many services (e.g. customer relations and repairs) to the private sector.
Figure 1.9. Institutional mapping for drinking water supply
Linkages across water management functions and beyond
Interdependencies
Water management functions are intrinsically interlinked and mutually dependent and
EU [Water Directives]
ADVISORY
GROUPS
Provinces (12)
Municipalities
(408)
Ministry of Infrastructure
and the Environment
Research
centres and
think tanks
Drinking water
companies (10)
Vewin
National Institute for
Public Health and
the Environment
Production and distribution (treatment, supply,
maintenance, financing and compliance with quality
standards)
Protection and financing of drinking water resources
(tariffs for households and firms)
Regulation – drinking water standards
Shareholders of drinking water companies
Strategic planning and advice (supply plans, policy
documents)
Benchmarking – monitoring – performance evaluation
National Water Authority
INTEREST AND
INFLUENTIAL GROUPS
IPO
VNG
Advisory Committee
on Water
Advisory Committee on
Legal Water and Public
Work Affairs
Council for the
Environment and
Infrastructure
UvW
Nature and
environmental
NGOs
Agricultural
organisations
Consumers
organisations
VNO-NCW
MKB
MAIN ACTORS
OTHER
ACTORS
Regional water authorities (24)
Data gathering and sharing
EU European Union MKB Organisation of Entrepreneurs VNG Association of Netherlands Municipalities
IPO Association of Dutch Provinces PBL Environmental AssessmentAgency Vewin Association of Dutch Water Companies
KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute
UvW Association of Regional Water
Authorities
VNO-NCW Confederation of Netherlands Industry
and Employers
Watergovernance in the Netherlands is culture

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