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Water resource policy

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Abstract: This article seeks to delineate a focus on water resource policy, its institutions and policy making processes rather than implementation or hydrology, irrigation, geography, fisheries management, implementation, the management of specific water projects or the purchase, ownership and conveyance of water law|water rights. Water resource management is the implementation of policy and is usually carried out over smaller political, spatial, and geographical domains than policy. Policy is a cause of management practices, but best management practices are identified, evaluated, modified and disseminated by policy making bodies. These policy issues may be subdivided by various means, but broadly concern either the identification, annexation, procurement, maintenance, protection, preservation, expansion of water supply and protection of its quantitative degradation through evaporative loss, water main breakage, waste or constraining qualitative degradation through direct pollution. "Supply isn't just about water production, it is also about distribution infrastructure" [1] Technical issues of the world's aging water infrastructure also includes origination and dissemination of best practices to deal with metering, control systems, and pressure management.Much of policy discussion involves management of competing interests in supply and polluting uses by and between different user classes, with some commentators projecting resource wars as demand exceeds supply throughout most of the globe. [2] User classes of interest to policy making institutions and policy advocates include domestic, industrial, mining and agricultural facilities.[3]

Water resource policy issues are receiving increasing attention. [4]It is widely believed that water policy is entering a period of more or less permanent crisis,[5] at least in some regions, and the chilling spectre of worldwide crisis at some point in the future.[6]Given the complexity of international law, national sovereignty and forecasted water shortages, attention is increasingly focused on various approaches to this complex subject matter.[7] Organizations such as the Global Water Policy Project have sprung up to promote awareness and prod government and NGO's into heightened awareness of the problems.[8] Various jurisdictions at all levels from international down to small water districts regulate water resources to protect drinkability and agricultural uses from water pollution. Advanced industrial countries typically develope stringent rules which are disseminated worldwide through aid agencies and international agencies such as various departments of the United Nations. Within the developed nations, some localities have more highly developed water regulatory policy analysis, making and implementation bodies in place, due either to general social and ideological concerns or familiarity with specific, often problematic water quality problems.


Global water resource policy objectives (overview)

Planning is viewed as a means to

  • to address the raw need for water quantitatively
  • to protect water supply quantity
  • to regulate conflicts about water access and quality particularly to prevent possible political or military conflict.

[9] [10]

  • to protect vulnerable populations from threats such as flooding and mosquito vector activity.
  • navigable water policy
  • use of waters as dwelling space (houseboats)
  • conversion of water resources into energy (hydro-electric)
  • extraction of food from water resources (fishing, aquafarming)
  • extraction of minerals including petroleum

Institutional participants


A few high points in multilateral initiatives are as follows:

The 1977 Mar del Plata United Nations Conference on Water was the first intergovernmental water conference, leading to the 1980 Declaration of the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade by the UN General Assembly.[11]

The United Nations Environmental Program is a key institution housing water resource policy making agencies and disseminating best practices worldwide. This activity occurs at global, regional and national levels. This role has been enhanced by landmark policy directives:

  • UN General Assembly Resolution 3436 (XXX) Agenda 21
  • 1997 Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP and
  • 2000 Malmö Ministerial Declaration adopted at the First Global Ministerial Environment Forum.


At Earth Summit 2002 governments established targets for 2015 to improve access to safe drinking water. [13]


Treaties between nations may enumerate rights and responsibilities. For instance, a treaty between Poland and Germany, "An Agreement to establish cooperation on water resources management" provides:

  • supply of drinking water of good quality,
  • protection of surface water,
  • supply of water to agriculture,
  • fight against water pollution. [14]

The Permanent Court of International Justice adjudicates disputes between nations including water rights litigation. [15]

Non-profit NGO policy advocacy organizations

Non governmental organizations may have consultative status at the UN. One such NGO is the World Water Council, an "international multi-stakeholder platform" established in 1996 to act "at all levels, including the highest decision-making level...[in] protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions...for the benefit of all life on earth." It was an outgrowth of the 1992 at the UN's International Conference on Environment and Development in Dublin and at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. The Council itself is mow based in the City of Marseilles.[11] Their website explains its' multi-stakeholder basis as due to the fact that "authority for managing the world's fresh water resources is fragmented amongst the world's nations, hundreds of thousands of local governments, and countless non-governmental and private organizations, as well as a large number of international bodies." Subsequently, in 1994, the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) organized a special session on the topic in its Eighth World Water Congress held in Cairo in November 1994, leading to creation of the World Water Council. [16]

Business water resource policy initiatives

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has engaged stakeholders in a process it refers to as in its H2OScenarios engaged in a scenario building. In June 2011 in Geneva, the Future of Water Virtual Conference, "hosted by" Dow Chemical, exchanged view on sustainable water issues. Notable presented included Peter Bell of Harvard's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and David Abraham, CEO of ClearWater Initiative. Other sponsorships included Scientific American and Fast Company (magazine)|Fast Company, a media firm. Issues raised included

  • water infrastructure monitoring,[17] global water security, potential resource wars, [18] interaction between water, energy, food and economic activity, the "true value" of "distribution portions of available water" and a putative "investment gap" in water infrastructure. [19][20] It was asserted that climate change will impact scarcity of water but the water security presentation emphasized that a combined effect with population growth "could be devastating".[21] Identified corporate water related risks include physical supply, regulatory and product reputation. [22]

This forum indicated policy concerns with

  • trade barriers
  • price supports
  • other subsidies
    • treatement of water as a free good creates underpricing of 98% of water [23]
  • need to intensify debate
  • need to harmonize public/private sectors[24]

Issues of concern to policy makers

Surface water and sewage discharge

Such regulatory bodies as exist cover designated regions [25] and regulate piped waste water discharges to surface water which include riparian and ocean ecosystems. These systems of review bodies are charged with maintenance maintaining a healthy aquifer for purposes of wilderness ecology (wildlife habitat,drinking water, agricultural irrigation and fisheries. Another area of regulatory attention, which may or may not be housed within the same regulatory structure, includes storm water discharge which tend to carry fertilizer residue and bacterial contamination from domestic and wild animals. [26] They have the authority to make orders which are binding upon private actors such as international corporations [27] and do not hesitate to exercise the police powers of the state. Water agencies have statutory mandate which in many hurisdictions is resilient to pressure from constituents and lawmakers in which they on occasion stand their ground despite heated opposition from agricultural interests[28] On the other hand, the Boards enjoy strong support from environmental concerns such as Greenpeace,Heal the Ocean and Channelkeepers.[29]


Water supply
  • Drinking water
  • Agriculture. "Many rural people practice subsistence rain fed agriculture as a basic livelihood strategy, and as such are vulnerable to the impacts of drought or flood that can diminish or destroy a harvest. "[30]
Surface and groundwater

Surface water and groundwater have often been studied and managed as separate resources, although they are interrelated.[31] There are three recognized classifications of groundwater which jurisdictions may distinguish: subterranean streams, underflow of surface waters, and percolating groundwater.[32]

Policy maker's constituencies

Classification of sites of policy makers' concern include:

  • residential
  • construction,
  • industrial,
  • municipal activities,
  • discharges from irrigated agriculture;
  • dredge and fill activities;
  • Consistency with national regulations
  • and several other activities with practices that could degrade water quality.


The main article for this category is Water resource policy.

Ballast water, fuel/oil leaks and trash originating from ships is a growing concern in terms of water pollution in addition to other concerns. Of special concern are:

  • cruise ships
  • tankers
  • bulk cargo carriers

Ballast water may contain toxins, invasive plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria.

Programmatic subdivisions

The agencies categorize their work into the following programs or similar ones.

  • Biosolids
  • Dredge/Fill Wetlands
  • Irrigated Lands
  • Land Disposal (landfills, waste piles, etc.)
  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (surface water)
  • Recycled Water
  • Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO)
  • Storm water
  • Timber Harvest
  • Riparian and ocean going vessel pollution

Structural constraints on policy makers

Operational water management implements policy. These policies are implemented by organizational entities created by government exercise of the police power of the state. However, all such entities are subject to constraints upon their autonomy.[33] These constraints originate in the legitimacy demands of their constituents and also the conflicting constraints originating from global and regional international entities, national government and state or provincial policy instruments such as treaties, laws, regulations and contracts.[34] These factors affect ownership and control of water resources all the way down to the level of municipalities and special districts for flood control and allocation of water rights in accordance with local water law. In many localities, structural limitations on policy making and resulting implementation snarls lead to failed policies. [35]


Subject matter and geographic jurisdiction are distinguishable.[36] Jurisdiction may be conceptualized geographically (wilderness,agricultural, urban) or in terms of subject matter such as flood control, water supply and sanitation.

Overlapping jurisdictions

In typically water challenged province in a developed nation, the number of water regulatory agencies at the provincial level alone is substantial, not counting county, city and special districts:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (State/EPA)
  • Coastal Commission
  • Coastal Conservancy
  • Department of Fish & Game
  • Department of Water Resources
  • Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES)
  • Ocean and Coastal Environmental Access Network (OCEAN)
  • Resources Agency Wetlands Information System
  • State Water Resources Control Board

[37] Additionally,

  • Public Health Departments conduct water sampling for bacterial and viral contaminants
  • Water districts control service to residential, commercial, industrial and institutional water consumers

Flood and contaminattion control

Water can become a natural disaster in the form of coastal or inland manifestions. These include tsunami, hurricane,cyclone, rogue wave and storm surge or floods originating from terrestrial water - bursting dams, rivers overflowing their banks. Planning and prevention of floods is a part of water resource policy which is separated from ordinary water resource management designed to allocate supply and provide for sanitation. One jurisdiction's projects may cause problems in other jurisdictions, causing untold grief to all concerned. For instance, Monterey County California controls a body of water which acts as a reservoir for San Luis Obispo County. Who pays for measures to restrict growth of Quaaga Mussels? The down stream jurisdiction will face expensive damage to their piping systems if things get out of control, but boaters in the upstream jurisdiction will infect the lake if they are not subject to education and enforcement programs, which cost money. Similar examples abount.

Subject matter jurisdiction: water quality issues

Water quality issues or sanitation concerns reuse or water recycling and pollution control which in turn breaks out into stormwater and wastewater.

Water treatment policy

Water treatment is usually a matter of implementation however it is subject to multiple overlapping jurisdictional constraints which limit the governmental autonomy [38]exercised by these bodies. For instance, levels of chloramines with their resulting toxic trihalomethane by product are subject to Federal guidelines even though water management implementing those policy constraints are carried out by local water boards. [39]

Stormwater runoff control policy

Surface runoff is water that flows when heavy rains do not soak (infiltrate) soil; excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flowing over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle.[40][41] Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a Channel (geography)|channel is also called a Nonpoint source pollution|nonpoint source. Such sources often contain man-made contaminants, the runoff is called nonpoint source pollution. When runoff flows along the ground, it can pick up Soil contamination|soil contaminants including, but not limited to petroleum, pesticides, or fertilizers that become discharge (hydrology)|discharge or nonpoint source pollution.[42][43] At a policy level, political groups aggregate at such policy making entities as will hear their claims. Thus, in democratic jurisdictions with relatively open access to citizen participation, agricultural interests, developers, fish and wildlife groups, and environmentalists will compete for policy maker attention and for implementation of their preferred policy options. [44]


Wastewater is water which has been discharged from human use; "water that has been adversely affected" by anthropogenic influence. [45] The primary sources are discharge from the following sources:

  • domestic residences,
  • commercial properties,
  • industry,
  • agriculture

Potential contaminants exist in varying concentrations and new ones are found on an ongoing basis}. Sewage is technically wastewater contaminated with fecal and similar animal waste byproducts, but is frequently used as a synonym for waste water. Origination includes cesspool and sewage outfall pipes, some of which are unpermitted .


  1. TakaDu p. 9
  2. Halcrow p. 27 & etc
  3. http://www.ecolex.org/ecolex/ledge/view/RecordDetails;document_Law%20on%20Water%20Resources%20Development%20(Law%20No.%2011%20of%201974)..html?DIDPFDSIjsessionid=7DA28E1500FB24F295BD6F41E7070924?id=LEX-FAOC001336&index=documents
  4. name= Halcrow http://www.futurewecreate.com/includes/0614Global%20Water%20Security%20PSC%2019%20Oct%20rev1.pdf
  5. http://www.gwp.org/Global/The%20Challenge/Resource%20material/IWRM%20at%20a%20glance.pdf
  6. http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/arts/Fight-for-Water-Hits-Crisis-Levels-Worldwide-118423974.html
  7. http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20023193561.html
  8. http://www.globalwaterpolicy.org
  9. In nations of all classes, conflict between urban and agricultural uses are expected to intensify, creating policy making challenges of increasing complexity.
  10. Dehydrating Conflict by Sandra L. Postel and Aaron T. Wolf, September 18, 2001. From Global Policy Forum
  11. 11.0 11.1 http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/index.php?id=92
  12. http://www.unep.org/law/
  13. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/globalassess/en/ Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report
  14. http://www.ecolex.org/ecolex/ledge/view/RecordDetails;document_Agreement%20between%20the%20Federal%20Republic%20of%20Germany%20and%20the%20Republic%20of%20Poland%20on%20cooperation%20on%20water%20resource%20management.html?DIDPFDSIjsessionid=7DA28E1500FB24F295BD6F41E7070924?id=TRE-151959&index=treaties
  15. http://www.ecolex.org/ecolex/ledge/view/SearchResults;DIDPFDSIjsessionid=7DA28E1500FB24F295BD6F41E7070924?index=courtdecisions&indexHitsParam=treaties%3A406&indexHitsParam=documents%3A9769&indexHitsParam=courtdecisions%3A256&indexHitsParam=literature%3A2486&query=water&sortField=score
  16. Ibid
  17. name= Takadu http://www.futurewecreate.com/includes/0615Water_Price_Innovation_Scarcity_TaKaDu.pdf
  18. http://www.futurewecreate.com/includes/0614Global%20Water%20Security%20PSC%2019%20Oct%20rev1.pdf
  19. name= Halcrow
  20. http://www.futurewecreate.com/
  21. Halcrow
  22. Halcrow p 23
  23. Takadu p.2
  24. Halcrow p 28
  25. http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/waterboards_map.shtml
  26. http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/ciwqs/who_is_regulated.shtml
  27. http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_17612147
  28. http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_18314090?nclick_check=1
  29. http://www.facebook.com/notes/heal-the-ocean/hilary-spoke-to-regional-water-quality-control-board-today/10150089482817928
  30. 16th Conference on Climate Variability and Change|2.7|Evaluation of the Use of Forecast Interpretations information|Diego H. Pedreros, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA; and A. Bonilla, P. Ramirez, C. Funk, G. Husak, J. Michaelsen, and L. Aguilar|Session 2, Climate Predictions on Seasonal and Interannual Time Scales: 1(parallel with Session 1) Monday, 10 January 2005, 1:30 PM-5:30 PM|http://ams.confex.com/ams/Annual2005/techprogram/paper_87610.htm
  31. United States Geological Survey (USGS). Denver, CO. "Ground Water and Surface Water: A Single Resource." USGS Circular 1139. 1998.
  32. http://www.blm.gov/nstc/WaterLaws/california.html
  33. Poulantzas, Nicos. Political Power and Social Classes. NLB, 1973 (orig. 1968).
  34. ^ Habermas, J. and Derrida, J. “February 15, Or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, beginning in the Core of Europe” in ‘’The Derrida-Habermas Reader’’ ed. Thomassen L. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago Ill. Pp. 270-277. P.302
  35. Collapse of an Industry: Nuclear Power and the Contradictions of U.S. Policy (Cornell Studies in Political Economy) John L. Campbell
  36. Black's Law Dictionary
  37. http://www.megalaw.com/ca/top/cawater.php
  38. Poulantzas, Nicos. Political Power and Social Classes. London:New Left Books>
  39. http://www.ccwa.com/chloramines.htm
  40. Robert E. Horton, The Horton Papers (1933)
  41. Keith Beven, Robert E. Horton's perceptual model of infiltration processes, Hydrological Processes, Wiley Intersciences DOI 10:1002 hyp 5740 (2004)
  42. L. Davis Mackenzie and Susan J. Masten, Principles of Environmental Engineering and Science ISBN 0-07-235053-9
  43. Adapted for this section, including citations herein, from open source CCL 2.0 main article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormwater
  44. http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/instream_flows/docs/not_wdm070111.pdf
  45. Section adapted from main topic Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wastewater CCL 2.0 Originating editor TakuyaMurata

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