The adaptiveness of Dutch water law put to the test: dealing with water scarcity in a water-rich country

A.M. Keessen, W.W.P. Ernst

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Arguably, laws should change and become adaptive in order
to facilitate adaptation to climate change. However, too much
flexibility runs counter to the need for legitimacy, stability and
enforceability and, therefore, a balance should be struck.
Experimental laws and regulations could lead to discussion
about the need for and the extent of legal adaptation to
climate change. This need for experimental laws has led to
analysis, comparison and assessment of two adaptation measures
dealing with water scarcity in a water-rich country such
as the Netherlands, in the context of their resilience. The aim
was to discover whether the current Dutch legal framework
enables adaptation or whether changes to national laws will
be required. The applicable laws, regulations and policy
documents have been analysed to select a suitable region in
the Netherlands where water scarcity is commonplace (or
‘structural’) in order to conduct case studies to examine the
effectiveness of the adaptation measures. During the course of
this research it emerged that the Dutch legal system is not
designed to deal with structural water scarcity. However, the
cases also showed that Dutch national law does not have to
change to enable adaptation to a situation of inherent water
scarcity. Although Dutch water resource law does not promote
all the necessary elements of an adaptive approach, it
can enable adaptation through its polycentric approach,
together with the discretion delegated to regional authorities
to create local solutions with the assistance of the private
sector if necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-248
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Water Law
Issue number5/6
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • empircal research
  • water law
  • adaptation to climate change
  • water resources
  • adaptiveness


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