Water organizations

Department of Public Works (Rijkswaterstaat)

The Netherlands has been shaped by humans. This may sound cliché, but it is a particularly apt expression in this case: there is hardly a single part of the Netherlands left where human intervention cannot be seen. The battle against the sea has played a major role in the design of the landscape. Without these man-made adjustments, half of the Netherlands would not only be uninhabitable, but also underwater.

Today, the battle against the sea is executed on a national level by Rijkswaterstaat, which can be compared with the Department of Waterways and Public Works. Rijkswaterstaat manages and maintains all polders, dikes, sluices, and pumping-stations, etc., in the Netherlands. The minister of the Ministry of Transport and Waterworks makes use of the work of Rijkswaterstaat, which has for two hundred years fulfilled an important role in the construction, management, and maintenance of the (main) infrastructural works of the Netherlands. In the past, its duty was to look after the dikes. Today, it is responsible for protecting against floods, taking care of the main roads, encouraging traffic safety and developing sustainable and efficient water systems. In total, about 10,000 people work for the Rijkswaterstaat, divided into ten regional boards and six specialised services. More can be read about the history and duties of Rijkswaterstaat below.


The Dutch water boards (Dutch: waterschap or hoogheemraadschap) are regional water authorities charged with managing water related issues in the Netherlands. The same term denotes the districts which governmental bodies are responsible for. The districts belonging to these governmental bodies do not correspond to provinces or municipalities, but to drainage basins. If a water board is situated next to the sea, it’s called ‘hoogheemraadschap’ in the province of Holland. At present (2009) there are 26 water boards in the Netherlands.

Water boards are one of the oldest government bodies of the Dutch polity. They form the base of the polder model; traditionally, these authorities were charged with the management of water on behalf of a given district’s inhabitants. In polders, the main issue is the control of water level. Although pumping stations have taken over the role of windmills, the land still can’t stay dry on its own. For a long time, keeping water away has been a public interest that necessitated inhabitants to work together. This necessary cooperation led to the birth of the water boards.


There are a large number of companies specialized in water issues. Some are specialized in technical research such as the Marin institute. Others are professionals in building water infrastructures, like van Oord. Apart from large companies like this there are also a large number of consultancies and NGOs working nationally and internationally. They are professionals in domains such as water quality, water and nature, water governance, water and recreation, water and architecture, water and remote sensing, etc.