JEG 2001

Jaarboek voor Ecologische Geschiedenis



Tim Soens en Erik Thoen (Editors)

Tussen politiek, economie en ecologie: waterbeheer in het verleden



Tim Soens en Erik Thoen

Waterbeheer in het verleden: tussen economische, politieke en ecologische belangen, Inleiding


Erik Thoen en Tim Soens

Van landschapsgeschiedenis naar ecologische geschiedenis. Waterbeheer in de Vlaamse kustvlakte in de Late Middeleeuwen en het Ancien Régime


[Water management in the Flemish coastal plain in the Late Medieval and Early Modern period. Towards an ecological approach]

Summary This article argues that changes in the historical landscape cannot be studied without a thorough knowledge of the economic and social structures of the area in question. Geographically, it deals with the Flemish coastal plain, and more specifically with Zeeland Flanders adjacent to the river Scheldt, which is studied from the medieval to the early modern period. From the thirteenth century on, this area was particularly troubled by disastrous inundations followed by the loss of land. These inundations cannot be explained by natural phenomenons only. A deficient water management needs to be taken into account as well. From the twelfth century on, water management was the task of specific institutions, the ‘waterschappen’. Although often praised for the quality of their work, evidence seems to suggest that the water boards’ officials were mainly driven by self-interest and not by the overall welfare of the area’s inhabitants. This article however, is only a prolegomenon. More research has to be done to explain the evolution of the historical landscape. This is only possible when taking into account the social structuring of the area. In this way the history of the landscape turns into ecological history, concentrating on the multiple relations between man and nature.


Chris de Bont

De kassen staan blank. Historische wortels van wateroverlast in Delfland


[Why not blame history ? Present-day problems in Delfland water management within their historical context]

Although some forms of water management in the Netherlands date back as far as the Roman period, it was not until the eleventh century that a new form of reclamation activities gave rise to the development of a special technical skill in connection with a balanced set of juridical rules originating in the late Early Middle Ages on the one hand, and of a new institutionalised approach to water management on the other. In order to reclaim vast areas of mires and peat bogs for agricultural use in large parts of the Netherlands the reclaimers had to manage the water. Peat reclamation without water management is quite unthinkable. Partly because of these reclamation activities the whole water system started to change rather rapidly. From the thirteenth century onwards the so-called water boards (in Dutch: hoogheemraadschappen) were founded and water management became institutionalised. These new institutions took all kind of measures in order to reach an optimum in water management for the very dynamic water landscape of the Netherlands. Looking back, many of these timebound measures appeared to be only short-term solutions. Furthermore, they brought about many of the present day problems in Dutch water management. In this paper the historical intermingling between cause and result concerning water management in the Low Countries is discussed on the basis of a short history of water management in the Hoogheemraadschap of Delfland near The Hague.


Tim Soens

Het waterschap en de mythe van democratie in het Ancien Régime. Het voorbeeld van de Vlaamse Kustvlakte in de Late Middeleeuwen


[The Flemish ‘water-boards’ and the myth of democracy in the Late Medieval and Early Modern period]

Like any other form of organisation in history, the organisation of water management reflects the physical and social constraints of a well-defined society. Furthermore, the organisation itself influences policies pursued. From the late medieval period on, water management in the Flemish and Dutch coastal plains has been entrusted to institutions, ‘waterschappen’, often praised for their ‘democratic’ way of working, allowing all people involved to control and adjust their policy at least indirectly. But on closer examination, this assumption does certainly not apply to all of these institutions. Historical research of some late medieval and early modern ‘waterschappen’ round Bruges and adjacent to the river Scheldt in the former country of Flanders, shows that the organisation of these institutions reflected the property structures in the coastal plain. In this period, landed property tended to become concentrated and one has to consider whether this concentration of property and wealth influenced the water management policy. In view of the huge loss of land in the Scheldt area between 1300 and 1600, this evolution may have had important ecological consequences.


Piet van Cruyningen

Waterbeheer, landbouw en samenleving in West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen in de 17e en 18e eeuw


[Water management and agriculture in West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, 17th-l8th centuries] Between 1650 and 1750 the costs of dike maintenance in West-

Zeeuws-Vlaanderen rose steeply, due to dangerous currents in the Zeeland streams, which could gradually erode the dikes and dunes. These costs were largely paid by me urban land-owners who reclaimed the land in the early seventeenth century. These landlords were not able to, make farmers pay a part of the increased costs, as this might have meant a final blow to those of their tenants who already were in trouble because of the depressed state of agriculture. The largest farmers on the other hand did not suffer much from the increasing taxes. By selling straw to the watering and by receiving a salary as member of the board of the watering they probably received more than they paid. The local power of these wealthy farmers was too strong for the landowners, who did not live in situ. As a consequence, many urban landlords sold their land to the farmers, which resulted in the creation of a wealthy landowning farmers elite.


Stephan Vanfraechem

‘Zalm à l’hollandaise of Waalse karpers?’ Goede nabuurschap tussen België en Nederland: de Waterverdragen als case-study


[The ‘water treaties’ and the political, economic and ecological relations between Belgium and The Netherlands]

During the last quarter of the 20th century, the so-called ‘water treaties’ continually interfered in Belgian-Dutch bilateral relations. In Flanders, public opinion blamed the continuous postponing of a solution to mere Dutch unwillingness. This assumption however needs to be re examined. In addition to Belgian-Dutch opposition, other elements need to be taken into account, among which the Belgian inter-community relations (tensions between the Flemish and Walloon regions); the clash of economic and ecological interests (the expansion and international positions of the Antwerp and Rotterdam ports versus nature conservation); and finally the tension between national, European and global rules concerning water quality and water management. Only a combination of all these difficulties can explain the complexity of the negotiations.


H. C. Toussaint

Enkele slotbeschouwingen. Besturen in de polder: democratie ‘avant la lettre’?