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Elections: Why climate change is making water authorities more important

Windmills of Kinderdijk. Photo: Depositphotos

There is an old saying that God created the earth, but the Dutch built Holland. In a country where one-third of its land is below sea level, keeping the ground dry requires careful and continuous management.

When Dutch voters elect the boards of their local water authorities on March 15, they are influencing not only the country’s political direction, but potentially its physical form for future generations. increase.

The 21 provincial water authorities in the Netherlands are an almost invisible but important hierarchy of government. Legally, it’s about maintaining dikes, cleaning up the water that goes into your homes and canals, and regulating water levels to protect your land from the twin threats of drought and flooding.

But water authorities are becoming increasingly politicized as climate change and agricultural reform come to the fore. “When we talk about these elections, people often reply: Everyone wants clean water and safe dikes, what political choices do they have to make? Huh? But that could change a lot,” says publicist Jane Albras. Association of Dutch Waterworks (UvW).

“For example, you can decide to make the embankments as high as possible, but as sea levels rise, you can say that there comes a time when you need to make room for the water…’

“For clean water, we have to comply with European standards, and I would say that is ambitious enough. We can also say that we need to invest in. This is quite an investment.

“Or, we believe we need to do more at the source to prevent pollution from entering our waters in the first place, so we think we should focus more on stricter regulations and enforcement for polluters. ”

right to vote

Unlike the state parliament, which is only open to Dutch citizens, the water authority is elected by all residents of the area. Everyone who was registered with their municipality on January 30th and has a valid residence card should have received a blue ballot card. Shumpasby mail. About 900,000 foreigners are eligible to vote this yearaccording to the Office of Government Statistics CBS.

A record number of candidates are running for office this year. Photo: DutchNews.nl

The Water Authority is the oldest government agency in the Netherlands. The first Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland was founded in Leiden in 1255 by Count Willem II of Holland. The elected board makes policy decisions in public meetings and appoints a board of directors to oversee the day-to-day operation of the water network. , headed by the “Water Mayor”, or dichgraf.

Their boundaries span municipalities and states, but they are primarily funded by direct taxes and thus remain autonomous electoral bodies. Waterschaps belasting.

“We have a pretty unique financial structure,” says Alblas. “In a delta country like the Netherlands, it is important that water management does not have to compete with youth care and others for funding.

“But paying taxes means you should have a say in what happens to that money. When you look at all the social issues around water and public spaces, these are all issues that directly affect people. So it’s important to be able to hear their voices.”

other candidates

The increasing importance of the Rural Water Authority can be judged by the fact that there are 30% more candidates in this year’s election than in 2019, with 4,667 candidates representing a total of 255 political parties. .

Voter turnout has also increased, aided by the decision to merge the Water Authority election with the state legislature. Last time, 51.3% of her voters voted for the Water Board candidate, up from her 43.5% in 2015. In 2008, when the Commission was last elected in independent elections, only 22.7% of voters did not turn out.

“This is seen as a kind of midterm election for the cabinet, because the state legislature chooses the senators, and we obviously benefit from that,” Alblas said. “If people are in the voting booth, they can also fill in both ballots at the same time.”

Most parties across the country have water divisions, but only the right-wing liberal VVD and the peasant BBB are running for office in all regions. GroenLinks, D66 and Volt are lagging behind water naturecampaigns for more sustainable water management and has the largest number of seats on 21 water management committees.

climate change

“I think it’s become more political, and part of it has to do with climate change.” Wechtstromenan area covering overijssel and part of southeast Drenthe.

“There are political parties, like the VVD, who argue that they should focus on their core tasks as mandated by law and not spend money on extras. It argues that we should do our part to protect nature and pay more attention to nature and biodiversity.

Even in a country the size of the Netherlands, the challenges vary greatly from region to region. Limburg suffered river flooding two years before her, and the west coast is plagued by the prospect of rising sea levels, while droughts are frequent in the east, such as Wechtstromen, as summer temperatures rise. doing.

“It’s getting more and more impactful and closer to the world that people live in,” says Cranenberg. Compared to four years ago, after all, I see people starting to think it matters.

“It’s our future”

Cranenberg, 29, stands out among his peers who are predominantly white, male, semi-retired or fully retired. She combines her duties at the water department, which takes her about 12 hours a week, with a full-time job as a graduate researcher and tutor at Tilburg University.

Her involvement began as a student when she received a water utility tax bill and wanted to know where the money went. She said, “I was a little curious, so I went to a meeting. rice field.

Anieke Kranenburg, Water Naturijk Candidate for Vechtstromen

Cranenberg felt that the water authority’s committee should be younger and more diverse, and decided to be more actively involved. “These are major interventions that require a lot of money,” she says. “So it makes sense for young people to have more of a say, because this is about our future.”

She worked to make Vechtstromen more accessible and transparent, setting up a live stream feed of the conference and promoting her work in Instagram posts. She said, “Water and nature make for great photos. It’s good that young people don’t write a lot of emails, but they send DMs right away, so I can keep in touch with them. “

This year, reforms driven by D66 and GroenLinks gave voters even more leverage and reduced the number of reserved seats allocated to stakeholders. To date, conservation groups, farmers, and the business community have been given two seats on each committee (between 18 and 30 depending on the population of the water committee area), and their decisions have influenced their activities. reflected the direct impact on

more elected seats

The two parties wanted to abolish agricultural and business seats. After a late compromise, the agricultural representative’s seat was retained, but the result means that two more seats will be chosen by voters this year.

Alblas questions whether the elimination of reserved seats would make a big difference to board composition. The business world Establish a political party in Bedrichsberangentrying to keep seats through the ballot box.

“Eventually they will find their way back to the board through political parties, so I don’t know if that will make much of a difference,” says Albras. , they know what they’re doing better than the average person, and parties like the BBB and CDA have a support base in the farming community.

Cranenberg argues that reducing the number of reserved seats would make water authorities more accountable and relevant to voters. “Your vote and mine will bring more value. This is very important for people to go out and vote because it will give residents more influence in these elections.” means that it is

https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2023/03/elections-why-climate-change-is-raising-the-stakes-for-water-authorities/ Elections: Why climate change is making water authorities more important

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