Water management in The Netherlands

Rijkswaterstaat and the district water boards are charged with water management in the Netherlands. Among other tasks, they are responsible for ensuring a sufficient supply of water and keeping the country protected against flooding. Provinces and municipalities are also involved in water management.

Duties of the water managers

A water manager is responsible for the prevention of flooding. In addition, a water manager must ensure a sufficient volume of groundwater and surface water, and keep the water quality up to par. Responsibility for water management in the Netherlands is vested with Rijkswaterstaat (the executive branch of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) and the district water (control) boards. Their duties are:

  • Rijkswaterstaat (RWS)

    Rijkswaterstaat is responsible for the management of the major waters, such as the sea and the rivers. RWS ensures that the government authorities responsible are alerted in good time to floods or stormy seas. In addition, RWS maintains dykes, dams, weirs, and storm surge barriers. Furthermore, RWS protects the coast and gives more room to rivers, for example, by deepening floodplains and constructing secondary channels.
  • District water boards

    District water boards are responsible for regional waters, such as canals and polder waterways. For example, they ensure that the water is clean in order to keep fish stock up to par. The district water boards also protect the country from flooding and ensure that farmers have sufficient water for their crops. Furthermore, they are responsible for waste water purification.

Government authorities involved in water management

The Water Act sets out the responsibilities of the various government authorities involved in water management. These are:

  • Central government

    The central government is responsible for national policy and national measures. In addition, the central government bears responsibility for the flood protection standards pertaining to the primary flood defence systems, i.e., dykes and dunes that protect the country against water from the sea and the major rivers.
  • Provinces

    The provinces are responsible for translating national water policy into regional measures. The provinces have operational duties with respect to some water management issues, such as the removal of groundwater from the soil. The Soil Protection Act stipulates that the management of groundwater quality is a task vested with the provinces.
  • District water boards

    The district water boards draw up management plans regarding the water quality of the waters within their district. In addition, the district water boards are responsible for the regional flood defence systems, that protect the country against, e.g., water from the canals.
  • Municipalities

    Groundwater in urban areas is the responsibility of the municipalities. In addition, the municipalities are responsible for the drainage of waste water and excess rain water through the sewer systems, as dictated by the Water Act and the Environmental Management Act.

National Water Plan

The National Water Plan 2016-2021 sets out the Dutch flood risk management and freshwater supply policies. The National Water Plan also specifies the strategies to be pursued with respect to areas particularly abounding in water, such as the Rhine-Meuse delta and the coastal area. It also examines optimum ways to accommodate water in the spatial planning of the Netherlands, and the costs involved.

The Netherlands involved in international water management

The Netherlands wishes to help other countries across the globe in the prevention of flood disasters. Together with other countries possessing water expertise, the Netherlands wants to supply specialists to help countries that lack such specialist knowledge. The Dutch Water Sector website presents the projects that are being carried out in collaboration with the Netherlands.