Implementing the Environment Act at a Water Board: cooperation is the key to success

The Schieland and Krimpenerwaard Water Board manages dikes, sluices and pumping stations in the area between Rotterdam, Zoetermeer, Gouda and Schoonhoven. Jesje Zijlstra started via Boer & Croon as interim manager of both the licensing team and the legal team. In addition, there was a major change project waiting for her within the public affairs department. The water board was prepared for the introduction of the new Environment Act. This had organisational and ICT aspects, but change was also needed in terms of mentality.


The Environment Act has been adopted but has not yet entered into force. Its aim is a far-reaching simplification of the system of legislation for the development and management of the living environment, by combining dozens of laws and hundreds of regulations into one new law. This includes laws and regulations on building, environment, water, spatial planning and nature.

Jesje: 'The moment someone submits an application for an environmental permit, the civil servant traditionally has an attitude of "does it fit within the law or the policy, otherwise it can't be done". What we want is for people to facilitate initiatives and focus on helping people. So they say 'what a nice idea, let's go and see how we can make it happen'. Of course, this requires a change in mentality.'

'The water board consists of a number of independently operating departments where people work who have enormous professional knowledge. Specialists who deal with water levels or the waste water chain, for example. And people from the licensing department who have always done their work in a certain way. They all have to start working according to the new attitude demanded by the Environment Act. That demands a lot in terms of attitude and behaviour. So we set up a whole programme of training courses and coaches for them.'

'The Schieland and Krimpenerwaard Water Board is a really nice and dynamic organisation. Before this, I worked with a number of other water boards where the atmosphere was very conservative and it was very difficult to get innovations off the ground. But here, there really is a Rotterdam mentality. Everyone was pleased that steps were being taken and that things were moving forward. So there is a will to change.'

Het hoogheemraadschap

'Het hoogheemraadschap bestaat uit een aantal zelfstandig opererende afdelingen waar mensen werken die over een enorme vakkennis beschikken. Vakspecialisten die zich bezighouden met de waterstand of de afvalwaterketen bijvoorbeeld. En mensen van de afdeling vergunningverlening die hun werk altijd op een bepaalde manier hebben gedaan. Die moeten allemaal gaan werken volgens die nieuwe houding zoals in de Omgevingswet wordt gevraagd. Dat vergt heel veel op het vlak van houding en gedrag. Dus daar hebben we een heel programma met trainingen en coaches voor opgezet.'

'Het hoogheemraadschap van Schieland en de Krimpenerwaard is een ontzettend leuke en voortvarende organisatie. Ik heb hiervoor met een aantal andere waterschappen gewerkt waar een hele conservatieve sfeer heerste en innovaties erg moeizaam van de grond kwamen. Maar hier heerst echt een Rotterdamse mentaliteit. Iedereen vond het fijn dat er stappen werden gezet en dat er beweging in komt. Dus de wil om te veranderen is aanwezig.'

'Ik ben gewoon aan de slag gegaan. Naast de aandacht voor de teams waaraan ik leiding gaf heb ik gewerkt aan de implementatiesporen rond de Omgevingswet. Wanneer moet wat gebeuren, wie werkt er met wie samen, wat gaat er goed en wat niet. De samenwerking met alle partijen is ontzettend belangrijk.'

'I just went to work. In addition to focusing on the teams I led, I worked on the implementation tracks of the Environment Act. When should what happen, who works with whom, what goes well and what doesn't. Cooperation with all parties is extremely important. Cooperation with all parties is extremely important.'

'What did I achieve when I leave? The Public Affairs Department has embarked on a process of change, in which we have defined mission, vision and ambition. In my view, one of the gains is that they have started to cooperate more proactively and to assert their position within the organisation. Originally, the new Environment Act was to take effect on 1 July. Although this has been postponed several times, and will now come into effect on 1 January 2013, we have decided internally to keep 1 July as our starting point. This will give us six months time to practice with each other and calmly go through all the processes. It is very important that our ICT system is completely ready. That is still a tricky point for many municipalities.'

'If all other relevant administrative organisations are ready on 1 January, you will see that applying for an environmental permit will become a lot easier. For example, if you want to build a house, you log in with your DigiD and indicate: I want to build on this spot and had thought of a toilet here, then there will be a pipe there and further on I want to lay out a garden. Then part of your permit application automatically goes to the municipality and other parts to the Department of Public Works, the Water Board, etc. That makes it a lot clearer.'

For more information contact Ben van der Hee

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