IWA Publishing

1. Introduction

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After long periods during which water management implied working against nature to ensure ‘progress’ for mankind, there has been a remarkable paradigm shift in the last one or two decennia. Several European countries, including the Netherlands, experienced floods and risky high waters from rivers. Although further improving dikes and embankments has typically been the first response, it has also lead to a reconsideration of the basic underlying principles of water management. Instead of only containing rivers, the new paradigm seeks to maximize opportunities to make nature an ally in the strife to stabilize water levels and prevent floods. In the Netherlands this new paradigm is accompanied by slogans such as ‘Space for Rivers’, ‘Living with Water’ and ‘Building with Nature’. The predicted further increase of irregular rainfall caused by climate change, as well as the emphasis of the European Water Framework Directive on respecting ecology and natural river basins, has contributed to this paradigm shift in water management.

Working with, rather than against nature to ensure human purposes comes, however, at a price which is especially relevant in densely populated countries such as the Netherlands. This trajectory almost invariably costs a great deal of space and, justifiably so, part of the reason behind the creation of ‘unnatural’ interventions in the past was precisely the ‘rationalization’ of the use of space. Working with nature also poses new challenges in the field of spatial planning. Spatial planners are as such not unfamiliar with these kinds of challenges. Many see the integration of various spatial claims into productive neighbourships and multiple uses of the same area as their core business. Water managers then, do not want to come by at the eleventh hour and be integrated alongside the already previously included interests and purposes. Ideally, they seek to have the water system as the guiding framework, with water rules and policies backing them in this claim. Of course, reality is more complicated and powers are sufficiently balanced to result in complicated processes within and around each project with which the new innovative paradigm is to be realized.

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