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Reorganising water management on a free-market basis? Don’t overlook the environment!

Dutch water management, in essence, concentrates on matters related to water quality, water shortages, water logging and flooding. Authorities and market parties are increasingly collaborating in the field of water management.

Greater market forces might, however, overshadow the environmental interests and citizens’ wishes, leading to less sustainable water management methods. Sander Boot warns of this in his thesis entitled Economic Policy Instruments and Evaluation methods in Dutch Water Management. An analysis of their contribution to an integrated approach. He will take his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Thursday, 29 November 2007.

Dutch water management is seeing an increase in the collaboration between public water administrators, such as the Government, provinces and water boards and market parties such as project developers and land owners. This offers opportunities to combine the themes of housing and water, as has been done in IJburg and the “Blauwe Stad”. Collaboration with land owners, such as farmers and nature administrators, is also vital in order to create water storage facilities in the countryside. The cooperation is aimed at arriving at efficient financing of water management.

This new form of collaboration will effect a fundamental change in the role of the public water administrator, according to Boot and it is a question of searching for ways of managing the social interest in such a way that integrated water management can also be implemented in the new situation. In his thesis, Boot defines integrated water management as “sustainable” water management, in which a balance is sought between the ecological, the economic and the social dimensions of sustainability.

In the integration between water and the environment, which received much attention towards the end of the previous century in particular, the main emphasis is on the ecological dimension of sustainability. From an economic perspective, this is often realised through the use of instruments such as ecotax and pollution tax. However, there is little support for this type of instrument among the target groups, specifically due to a slanted emphasis on the ecological dimension.

The new region-oriented spatial projects, in which the authorities collaborate with market parties, offer greater opportunities for a healthy balance between the ecological, economic and social dimensions of sustainability than the economic tools that are deployed for the integration between water and the environment. However, there is a danger of these arrangements neglecting the ecological dimension due to a disproportionate influence by the market parties.

Boot provides insights into the causes of this risk and offers suggestions for overcoming it. One of the options is to make use of the opportunities that a zoning plan amendment offers for making higher demands on the water quality or storage capacity. Boot also proffers observations on the way in which the public water interest can be anchored in public-private contracts.

Yvette Nelen | alfa
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