Water management

Kinderdijk shows you how the Dutch have been living, struggling, and working with the water that defines our country. Our famous polders used to be soggy peat bogs, and they would return to that state as soon as we stopped draining these lands. To keep our feet dry, we have been working together in our district water boards for centuries.

Dry feet

Anyone who has ever tried to dig a hole on the beach is familiar with the problem: the deeper you dig, the more water flows into the hole. In a sense, the western part of the Netherlands is like such a hole. Much of the land here lies below sea level, so we needed ditches, windmills,  sluices, and weirs to pump the water out. Right from square one, draining our land has always been a struggle, because the water will always try to find its way back to the lowest point. In a rainy country like the Netherlands, where rivers determine the lay of the land, flooding is an ever-present threat. Heavy rainfall is not the only problem, however. Subsidence of the soil, dike collapse, and mismanagement have each caused their fair share of disasters here.


Since nobody can withstand so much water alone, the authorities, farmers, and citizens decided to join forces and team up in organisations called district water boards. Now, nearly a thousand years later, Kinderdijk and about 26 % of the Netherlands would be flooded within weeks if water boards would stop working. Standing here, it’s good to know that throughout the centuries, the Dutch have kept up with the development of their water management tradition!

Kinderdijk is where people and water live together


Pulling it off together

A thousand years ago, the Alblasserwaard region was hopelessly fragmented. All sorts of minor nobles governed their own patches of land, water management included. Bickering, arguments, and envy caused the villages to be flooded time and time again, until in 1277, Count Floris V had enough of these petty squabbles. He gathered the minor nobles and forced them to start working together to keep the whole area dry. Their cooperation allowed them to build dikes around the entire region through the joint efforts of the local water boards. Elections were held to organise the water boards. This democratic form of collaboration within and between the various water boards served as the foundation for the way the State of the Netherlands is still governed to this very day!

Thinking of Holland

Thinking of Holland I see broad rivers
languidly winding through endless fen,

Thinking of Holland, H. Marsman
Translated by J. Brockway

Water boards

In the thirteenth century, count Floris V of Holland ruled these lands. He was a great strategist who conquered large swathes of territory held by the West Frisians in the north, but he was also considered a wise ruler, loved by many of his subjects. In 1277, Floris ordered the establishment of one of the Netherlands’ oldest water boards here, in order to secure and maintain the dykes surrounding the Alblasserwaard area together with the local residents.

Count Floris met an untimely ending: he was betrayed and brutally murdered by his own nobles. Fortunately, his water boards had a brighter future ahead of them, because the events that Floris V of Holland set in motion nearly a thousand years ago have made Kinderdijk and the rest of the Netherlands into what they are today: exceptional places where the people and the water have learned how to work together!