By Céline Zahno
On 15 March, the Netherlands will elect their water boards. Have you already received a letter with bold, red letters on it – but do not know what for? Find out all you need to know here.
What in the world are water boards?
Water boards are independently governing bodies responsible for the management of their regional waters. This includes tasks like flooding protection, managing water levels, ensuring water availability for farmers, and enforcing water quality standards. Every four years, all residents of the Netherlands vote for the water board responsible in their region. If that still sounds excruciatingly boring to you, keep on reading!
Why go through the effort of voting for the Dutch administration of water bodies?
Water management appears to be a technical task but is actually subject to a lot of political debate. The various parties you can vote for take different stances on things like sustainability measures, taxation of low-income households, and the way water bodies should be available for recreational use.
Okay, sounds nice, but I am not a Dutch national. Does that matter?
No, for once it does not. While only Dutch nationals are eligible to vote in the provincial elections that are held on the same day, both Dutch and international residents of the Netherlands can vote for the water authorities. You might think that this is a small consolation for not being able to participate in Dutch politics, but the water boards are deeply embedded in Dutch national identity – which you have a chance to be part of.
How so? Tell me more about the history of the water boards!
Effective water management is existential to the country. Since a large part of the country is below sea levels, the Dutch had to build dikes hundreds of years ago to drain their land for agricultural use. From the 12th century onwards, the water boards were responsible for this task. This required a lot of cooperative spirit within regions, and the water boards actually emerged as one of the oldest democratic institutions in the Netherlands. The fight against water became a symbol of the national achievements of the Dutch. And in addition to that, the task of the waterboards is becoming increasingly relevant today.
Water boards are becoming even more important? How can this be?
The threat of climate change makes good water management both more important and more challenging. The water boards are closely involved in the Delta programme, a national effort to keep the country safe from flooding and extreme weather events. Adaptation and prevention is at the core of the programme. This shows in construction projects around the country: a new underground bicycle parking in Zwolle, for example, can also be used to store water during extreme weather events to prevent it from flowing into houses in the neighborhood.
Okay, convinced! But how can I vote for the water boards?
You should have already gotten a letter with your poll card. Just fill it out and bring it to a polling station on 15 March. Every station will have a ballot box for the water board elections. Do not forget to bring your identification card or passport! You can check where to find the closest polling stations on this map. Within Science Park alone there are two of them: One at Café Restaurant Polder (Science Park 203) and the other one at the UvA’s Science Park campus (Science Park 904). Both will be open between 7:30 and 21:00.
Easy enough. And who should I vote for?
There is a test you can take that tells you which party suits your preferences best. You can take it here.
Editor’s Note: This article is a guest contribution by Céline Zahno. She is a second-year UvA Political Science student from Switzerland.