In the Netherlands the national government, the provinces and the district water boards are the principal water system managers. District water boards have been managing the water since the Middle Ages, and as such are the oldest democratic organizations in the country. Nevertheless, the role of these boards is not well known to the public. The district water boards are responsible for: _ the control of the water levels, via the construction and maintenance of pumping stations and sluices; _ the protection against flooding via the construction and maintenance of dikes, dunes and other dams; and _ the control of the quality of the surface water, via the construction and maintenance of wastewater purification plants. The district water boards are not responsible for drinking water; this undertaking is the responsibility of semi-privatized utility firms. Over the past decades the number of district water boards has fallen from 2,700 in 1940 to only 26 at present. This means that there has been a huge increase in the scale of the individual boards due to mergers. There are now more district water boards than Dutch provinces (12), but fewer than Dutch municipalities (430), but whereas district water boards are functional units, provinces and municipalities are administrative units.
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