The Institutional Arrangements for Water Management in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Cahier d’Histoire de l’Administration No. 8


Raadschelders, J.C.N.

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Water, either as a resource or as a threat, has always been a matter of concern to governments and to those who work in their service. To such an extent that arrangements for the distribution of the precious resource were considered the key factor of a specific polity of the ancient past Water management in its broader meaning and during the last two centuries has become a major issue for public policies at any latitude. How and why this happened could not be assessed efficiently without developing a longitudinal and comparative analysis, such as the one in this book. Institutional arrangements for the provision and the use of water are peculiarly persistent as well as remarkably resilient: This makes them an ideal subject of an historical account. Not that history is worth writing about only when it treats immutable phenomena. On the contrary; its main purpose is to record changes and possibly explain them. But long-lasting continuity urges the scholar to venture into the remote past, since only there are to be discovered the initial causes and the deeper meanings of the institutions under scrutiny. Also, continuity makes the strength of path-dependency all the more evident and consequently underlines the weight of history. This weight should therefore be accurately pondered whenever traditional institutional arrangements are to be reformed or – as it happens – their eradication is envisaged. This, in turn, highlights the practical purpose of historical research and enhances its social usefulness.