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Water: we use it every day and it's all around us. Good water management is instrumental in ensuring that we always have reliable drinking water in the Netherlands. Various organisations have been entrusted with the care for our water. Drinking water companies and water boards are the most well‑known. Other parties involved in water include various government ministries, Rijkswaterstaat (Public Works and Water Management), provinces and municipalities. But who does exactly what?
There are ten drinking water companies in the Netherlands. They make sure that clean water flows out of the tap. They do this by extracting groundwater or surface water, purifying it and getting it to our tap via a water distribution network. We take clean and safe drinking water for granted. Nevertheless, the drinking water companies must make considerable efforts in order to supply reliable drinking water, because stringent quality requirements apply to this basic necessity of life, and the sources are under pressure due to various forms of pollution.
In the Netherlands we consume on average 119 litres of drinking water per person every day. We drink only about 1 litre of this, and use the rest to shower, wash or do the washing up. Used water disappears down the drain into the sewer system and must then be cleaned. This is a job for the water boards. At sewage treatment plants, the water boards treat the wastewater of companies and households.
The water boards also enable us to live below sea level. Without water defences, more than half of the Netherlands would be flooded. By means of these structures, the water boards keep the quantity of water artificially at the right level.
Water boards are further responsible for the quality of surface water – the water you see in ditches, canals, lakes and rivers. You will find more information about this on the website of the umbrella organisation
Dutch Water Authorities.
Municipalities play a pivotal role in urban water management. They organise the gathering and removal of our wastewater via the sewer system and configure the urban and outlying areas. Zoning plans – due to become Physical Environment Plans in the future – are a crucial tool for performing this task. Water is playing an increasingly important role in the physical configuration of areas. Good coordination between water and spatial planning is essential to avoid water management problems such as groundwater levels that are either too high or too low. You will find more information on this subject on the website of the
Association of Dutch Municipalities.
The national government makes national water policy. Rijkswaterstaat, the province and the water boards produce regional plans. There is a distribution of tasks in the care for surface water: the province and the water boards are responsible for good regional and local water management. Rijkswaterstaat manages the major rivers and canals, the IJsselmeer, the North Sea and the Wadden Sea. The province makes groundwater policy and sets rules for protecting the groundwater in groundwater protection zones. Water boards and municipalities also contribute to protecting groundwater (through operational management).
Ensuring good water management is not a stand-alone subject, so the water managers take into account the interests of nature, the environment, agriculture and spatial planning. We call this 'integral water management'. Water management is a matter for the drinking water companies, water boards, Rijkswaterstaat and provinces. Although they are all different organisations, their work touches on many mutual interests. In more and more areas of the Netherlands, there is therefore intensive cooperation on effectively controlling water, so that everybody benefits. For more information about cooperation in the water supply chain visit