Herman Havekes, Professor by Special Appointment at Utrecht University, and strategic advisor to the board and management at Dutch Water Authorities (Unie van Waterschappen), delves deeper into how we can learn from Dutch history and what we can learn from other countries. His report, entitled ‘Successful Decentralisation? A critical review of Dutch water governance’, is an excellent insight into what works well and what could be improved when it comes to Dutch water governance. In addition, it describes that good water governance is a prerequisite in achieving proper water management.
Decentralised Dutch water governance
According to Prof. Havekes, Dutch water management is a 100% public responsibility. It is heavily decentralised with an important role for regional water authorities, municipalities, and water supply companies. The Professor explains that the smooth cooperation between these various actors is an essential component of Dutch water governance.
Prof. Havekes concludes that Dutch water governance is in good shape because of its fully public and highly decentralised structure, its robust and solid financial base, and its highly implementation- oriented character. His critical review is interspersed with best and bad practices from other countries. He makes the point that while Dutch water governance is well established and robust, there is room for further improvement, for example in the field of groundwater management and the introduction of financial incentives to influence citizens’ and businesses’ water consumption.
Ways to further improve Dutch water governance
The report references a study on Dutch water governance produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2014. The main message of this study was that Dutch water governance is excellent and is even acknowledged as a global reference point. Nevertheless, it also included recommendations for improvement. One of the OECD’s suggestions was that the ‘polluter pays’ principle could be applied more rigorously, and it specifically mentions diffuse agricultural emissions. Another suggestion was to strengthen the profit principle by imposing higher charges for surface water and groundwater abstraction.
A more recent OECD study is equally positive about Dutch performance in the field of water supply, sewerage, wastewater treatment and flood protection, particularly with regard to the decentralised financing system, the efficiency, low tariff increases and the relative ease with which funding is obtained for investments, with the Netherlands Water Boards Bank (NWB Bank) held up as an example.
According to Havekes there is still more than enough to do in the Netherlands. Compared to the situation abroad though, it does seem to be more like fine tuning – the foundations are largely laid but some aspects could and should be improved.
We will have to try to improve water governance abroad through the international exchange of knowledge. After all, that’s what should be expected of a global reference.
If you want to know more about the history and current developments of Dutch water governance, possible improvements, and why the decentralisation of Dutch water governance can be seen as successful, read the full report below.
Professor by Special Appointment
Professor Herman Havekes was appointed Professor by Special Appointment at the Faculty of Law, Economics, Governance and Organization at Utrecht University with the support of the Schilthuis Fund Foundation. He is the Chair of ‘Public organization of (decentralized) water management’ whose mission is to establish the link between theory and practice in water management.