Dutch Water Authorities is an international organisation comprising 21 regional water authorities in the Netherlands and their umbrella association, the Unie van Waterschappen. It promotes the interests of the regional water authorities at national and international level and shares a European office in Brussels with Vewin, the Dutch association of drinking water companies.
Regional water authorities
The Dutch live in the safest and cleanest river delta in the world. In a country below sea level, good water management is essential. Regional water management in the Netherlands is largely the responsibility of the regional water authorities.
Water management involves much more than building dykes and windmills. The work also entails water level management, water quality management, adapting to climate change, dredging, and wastewater treatment. Currently there are 22 regional water authorities in the Netherlands.
In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) qualified Dutch water management as a ‘global reference’ and praised its effectiveness and the role played by the regional water authorities.
The Dutch water authority model has its origins in the 13th century, meaning that regional water authorities have been in existence for about 800 years. This makes them the oldest form of democratic government in the Netherlands. Each regional water authority is run by a board that is elected by the inhabitants every 4 years.
The early existence of regional water authorities has everything to do with geographical location. More than half of the Netherlands is below sea level and without a proper water management structure, the country would be uninhabitable. The many dykes, locks, pumping stations, weirs, canals and ditches keep the Dutch people safe from floods.
Regional water authorities are legally embedded in the overall democratic structure of the Netherlands. They are therefore empowered to collect taxes, which totalled 2.7 billion euros in 2016. This equals 8% of the total tax burden in the Netherlands. An average Dutch family owning a house worth 200.000 euros pays an average of 315 euros per year for regional water management.
Number of water authorities: 22
Number of employees: 11.000 (1% of all civil servants in the Netherlands)
Total length of managed primary flood defences: 3.600 kilometres
Total length of other flood defences: 13.500 kilometres
Total length of managed watercourses: 235.000 kilometres
Number of water pumping stations: 3.700
Total length of managed roads: 7.500 kilometres
Number of wastewater treatment plants: 360
Units of wastewater treated per year: 2.000.000.000 m3
Number of treated pollution units per year: 22.500.000