The head of this column can give rise to much speculation. It was different 150 years ago because the whole of Schouwen-Duiveland, and especially the farmers, understood exactly what it meant. In 1871, the Polder Schouwen was declared free. It was a milestone in the history of the Water Board.
From the Middle Ages on, it continued to demand attention: sturdy dykes that withstand a storm well. The system whereby each owner was responsible for part of the dike barely worked in the Middle Ages. The water bodies that were created had to take care of the dikes and everything related to water protection and the evacuation of excess water from the polders. From 1291, care was concentrated in Schouwen in an organization, often called Land van Schouwen. The Zierikzee city council has long exercised a great influence on this point.
Maintaining the dikes was extremely expensive and the national government had to provide regular assistance. Initially, this was done through tax exemptions so that they did not have to be paid or only partially paid. At the time of the Republic, when the need was urgent, subsidies were granted. One such polder, which received a grant, was called calamiteus. Calamity or distress meant that the polder was unable to bear the costs of the dike and bank defenses independently. It was not until 1763 that a more structural solution materialized through the creation of a fund by the States of Zealand. It was obvious that the underlying polders would help sustain, but it was always on a non-binding basis. In 1791 this subsidy system was established in regulations and the underlying polders were forced to contribute.
Under the new kingdom, subsidies became the business of the empire. These calamitous polders therefore no longer had control over the management of the dykes and bank defenses. It was entirely with Rijkswaterstaat, which was supreme. This to the great inconvenience of the water boards and therefore of the landowners. Unlike other polders, Schouwen always had the power to carry out the work himself, just like the Polder Walcheren. It was a totally unsatisfactory situation because the polders had to help finance this work. Here, the rule “who pays decides” has been flouted.
All attempts at change and improvement have failed, despite the many pages of writing and printing. Finally, the matter was settled by law in 1870. This law afforded Schouwen the opportunity to escape Rijkswaterstaat’s orders. They did it by simply doing nothing. Any polder that wanted to remain a calamity to keep the government subsidy had to register. The Schouwse Water Council did not do this. The historic decision was taken on February 4, 1871, making Schouwen a free polder from January 1, 1872. Now, new regulations, adopted by the states of Zeeland, regulated the council. Unlike other polders, where a dike count was in charge, Schouwen had a president. The hemadens designation remained for the other members of the executive committee. In other polders they were called swords.
How free the Schouwen Water Council wanted to be is clear from the vote led by President BC Cau. 204 landers voted for, 18 against and 3 abstained. Until 1872, the name of the Water Board was: Schouwen, Burgh and Westland. From 1788 the latter two were added to Schouwen because the council was not sufficiently able to perform their duties. The landings of Burgh and Westland have decided to remain disastrous. To be calamitous is a thing of the past because on January 1, 1978 the law on calamitous polders was repealed.