Home Page


Dutch customs


"Polder politics" in the Netherlands

A polder is a section of land below the local water-table, enclosed by dikes and equipped with a water-evacuation system....

The operation of a polder is more complex than the evacuation of water.

The necessities of managing water below the natural table has always been further complicated by the shared ownership of land within a polder, the relationship between neighboring aquatic features (including other polders,) and the requirement for the management of large amounts of water flowing across land with little topographical variation.

Discussion and co-operation have always been essential qualities in Dutch culture. The agreements necessary in the function of these water systems require a process that is communal and conciliatory. The Dutch have a tendency to form policy by consensus more than by leadership. This derives from requirements in a land where local, regional, and national decisions about water have always determined mutual well-being and survival.

Even beyond the obvious need for in-polder agreements on evacuation of water, there are various ways that strictly local action can influence neighbors. Construction over a significant area may keep enough rain out that an area of open water may be requisite in order to offset the effect. Infrastructure work adjacent to a polder may be influential as well, if it changes hydraulic pressure — or, by drying a dyke excessively, incurs cracking and canal damage. And, if the extra-polder reservoir system overfills, water may have to be dumped onto valuable land.

These decisions are matters for discussion and pragmatic thinking, polder politics.