Table of Contents

The Politics of River Basin Organisations

The Politics of River Basin Organisations

Coalitions, Institutional Design Choices and Consequences

Edited by Dave Huitema and Sander Meijerink

Can River Basin Organisations (RBOs) actually improve water governance? RBOs are frequently layered on top of existing governmental organisations, which are often reluctant to share their power. This, in turn, can affect their performance. The Politics of River Basin Organisations addresses this issue by exploring the subject on a global level.

Chapter 6: State-founded water boards in industrialised Western Germany

Frank Hüesker and Christoph Bernhardt

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental politics and policy, management natural resources, water, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


With the implementation of the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive in 2000 (European Communities 2000), the institutional design, politics and performance of river basin organisations (RBOs) in Germany reappeared on the agenda of both researchers and practitioners (e.g. Moss 2003; von Keitz and Kessler 2008; Fichter-Wolf 2009; Thiel 2009). In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the most populous state of Germany, RBOs had already existed for decades in the form of nine so-called Special Law Water Boards (Sondergesetzliche Wasserverbände). Each of these specific RBOs is rooted in its own state law, giving it the authority to regulate problems related to flood protection as well as water quantity and quality. Beyond the Water Framework Directive’s implementation, these existing Special Law Water Boards might also address novel challenges that come close to, but are not formally within their scope of responsibility. Examples include the regional decline of water consumption, the consequences of climate change, and, in an institutional sense, the implementation of new governance models, for example, participatory procedures. As a result of these developments, NRW’s specific type of RBO has once again become relevant for advocates of integrated water resource management in environmental politics (for example, Green Party representatives in government, environmental stakeholders and managers of RBOs) and sciences (e.g. Moss 2003; Bernhardt et al. 2009). These institutional arrangements were established several decades ago, and certainly represent a special case within Germany.

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