In a recent BBC publication is the story of how the Netherlands handles its water challenges.https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211129-the-medieval-dutch-solution-to-flooding?ocid=ww.social.link.email.
Here are some edited sections from this article. It reminded me how much we could learn from the Dutch. Despite this method of delivery being hundreds of years old the water authorities remain dedicated to servicing local water catchments, which is precisely what local government in New Zealand is arguing with central government right now. The NZ proposed model has too few companies which spread over several natural water catchments. The model has no logic. An example is that the top of the South Island being connected to Gisborne. It should be part of South Island solutions.
After her talk last week Kathleen Gallagher told me that there are 11 Iwi at the top of the South Island, and they are all working together on water issues. We definitely should be working to include all of the South island in the final water solutions down here.
Here’s the story and think about the potential this has for us in New Zealand:
This July, gorged by days of rain, the Meuse River broke its banks, and the Belgian town of Liège was its victim. Waters the colour of old gravy raced through town, leaving residents floating in canoes as their homes vanished about them. In the city and its province, over 20 died, one man drowning in his basement.
Yet as the mayhem unfolded, one corner of Northern Europe suffered far less. In the Netherlands, the summer flooding was also described as the worst in a century and property damage was severe, but the country survived the floods without a single fatality. There are many reasons for this: quick evacuations, strong dikes and robust communication among them. But what underpins these varied forms of flood defence is an institution: the so-called “water boards” that have protected this waterlogged land for nearly a millennium.
These associations are worth understanding for the way they blend local democracy, direct taxation and crystal-clear transparency to put water at the very core of Dutch life in a nation where nearly a third of the land and half of homes still lie below sea level. Dutch polders (low-lying fields reclaimed from the sea) and dikes need to be maintained collectively.
This natural vulnerability – “Netherlands” literally means “low-lying country” – helps explain the growing power of the water boards. By the time Vermeer and Rembrandt were wetting their brushes in the mid-17th Century, the boards could levy their own taxes and punish polluters.
The water boards have plainly evolved from that lost age of trade guilds and ruff collars. Where oncethere were 3,500, just 21 remain, represented by a national association. But though their number has been cut, their role has arguably been extended: beyond organising and maintaining flood defences, they’re also responsible for water quality control, river and canal maintenance and sewage treatment.
The history of the water boards has practical modern-day consequences too. Like their medieval forebears, for instance, water boards still fundraise independently. Households broadly pay two types of tax: to their municipality and to their water board. And, as Emilie Sturm argues, this independence comes with obvious financial benefits. Unlike elsewhere, where water management jostles for cash with education or housing, the Dutch model “guarantees” the coffers are always full, explains Sturm, the programme manager at Blue Deal, the body that promotes Dutch water expertise abroad. This is reflected in the statistics: the water boards generate up to 95% of their budgets via their own taxes.
At the same time, the waterschaps continue their long tradition of open and elected government. Most board positions are now elected directly by the public, though a few are still doled out to corporate interests in industry, farming and the environment. Admittedly, the average Dutch person is often unconcerned with their local board: Rens Huisman of the Zuiderzeeland Water Board compares them to football referees: you ignore them when they work well. Even so, this deep well of localism is helpful. For one thing, says Daverveldt, democracy promotes transparent investing and monitoring. For another, boards are staffed with experts, elected to understand their own locality. This regionalism was on show this summer, when boards adopted varied tactics to fight the floods. In Rivierenland, crisscrossed by waterways, staff rushed to inspect the soundness of local dikes. In Limburg, squeezed between Belgium and Germany, the board has proposed a “euregional” approach to cover all three countries.
What was also fascinating about this article was that they measured the Carbon Count it took to produce this story. Here it is:
The emissions from travel it took to report this story were 0kg CO2. The digital emissions from this story are an estimated 1.2g to 3.6g CO2 per page view.