But what about public infrastructure projects that help one region but tax everyone? What about projects that take 50 years to implement? What about projects that take climate change into consideration?
Well, the Dutch face all those issues. They assembled a Delta Commission to "plan the future." The Commission's 2008 report [pdf] provides a national roadmap for managing water for the next 50+ years.
Read the report (the link is to the full English version) to get lots of great detail (or watch the movie), but keep these important points in mind:
- The number one goal is public safety (from floods and water contamination). Land values and environment come second (no "co-equal goals" confusion).
- The Dutch assign differing cost-benefit ratios, depending on the area at risk. This helps prioritize investments to, e.g., protect Rotterdam over farm fields.
- Nothing happens until there's broad public support for long-term, heavy investments. Historic investments have averaged 2-5% of GDP; the Delta Commission's recommendations will cost about 0.5% of GDP ($1 billion/year) for the next 100 years. Funding happens across generations because benefits will accrue across them. Such a funding model (paired with gradual investments) means that it's possible to start NOW, but change path if the future is different.
Bottom Line: American bureaucrats and politicians should use this report as a reference of "how it's done," to give an indication of how well or poorly we are addressing our water management problems.