Extreme river discharges, floods and debates about climate change triggered a shift in flood protection policy in the Netherlands from infrastructural to spatial measures. The new policy directive of `Room for the River¿, details of which were introduced in 2000, should prepare the country for future peak discharges. In order to deal with `residual risk¿, the concept of `calamity polders¿ for `controlled flooding¿ was launched in the same year. In this contribution we discuss the local protests against these plans against the backdrop of changed thinking about flood protection. We analyse the emergence of the concept, the commission established to inquire into the calamity polder plans, as well as local resistance and the counter-expertise it mobilised. We conclude that the choice to limit public participation in the debates about calamity polders has backfired. It has contributed to the shelving of the plans while increasing public distrust of flood policy. At the same time this episode has created some awareness among policy-makers of the importance of dialogue with the inhabitants of areas affected by flood policy measures.