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The sky is the limit: The changing role of the state in water management issues in the Netherlands

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For more content, see International Community Law Review.

Water management in the Netherlands involves reliance upon norms and values that are rooted in tradition, but responsive to the changing wishes and needs of society. The triangular relationship of 'interest-pay-say' has been a fundamental and consistently dominant principle, and to a large degree qualifies current interactions between state and non-state actors. Since the storm surge of 1953, the devastating effects of which were partly blamed on the water boards, these organizations have shown resilience by concentration, increase in scale and democratization. They were rewarded with the task of water quality management, which also made them financially self-supporting.

Today, other developments threaten the water boards. Unusual floods have occurred, and are likely to occur more frequently in the near future. Non-state actors are unwilling to accept the accompanying risk of damage, but on the other hand they find it hard to spend more money on safety measures. The balancing of interests among the growing variety of tasks concerning water management is also a continuous struggle. Spatial planning is an especially topical issue, and it constitutes both an illustration and a test case for whether state and nonstate actors will successfully avoid bad practices and find good practices for settling rights, disputes and conflicts. In doing so, both parties will have to acknowledge that the sky is the limit.


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