Room for the river, no room for conflict : Narratives of participation, win-win, consensus, and co-creation in Dutch spatial flood risk management

Roth, Dik; Warner, Jeroen; Winnubst, Madelinde


In the past two decades, ‘Room for the River’ policies that give back space to rivers and compensate for ‘lost nature’ by letting water flow rather than confining it between dikes have become popular in the Netherlands. Although the Netherlands has a long history of localised participatory water governance in so-called water boards, this system had gradually given way to a centralised national water management agency created in 1798. In this chapter, we analyse how governmental actors have dealt with conflicts, expressed in citizen protests over water interventions based on such approaches. We discuss and compare experiences with three interventions, each representing one of the recent flood risk management policies. We focus on the discursive dimensions of these conflicts, the contrasting and conflicting narratives of threats and opportunities, problems and solutions, ‘facts’ and ‘counter-facts’. Following the political theorist Chantal Mouffe, we argue that the governmental style of dealing with conflict has mainly been to downplay and ‘manage’ it rather than to engage with those who protested against water interventions and the arguments they mobilised in support of their protests, particularly when these arguments undercut central tenets underpinning the interventions.