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A2.3 Reform of existing legislation


The role of water laws is to implement and enforce policy, and provide effective administrative and regulatory mechanisms at appropriate levels. Thus, water laws are a powerful tool to support IWRM. Creation of modern, IWRM-supporting water legislation should follow on from the development of integrated and coherent water policies (A1).

Legislation may be reformed to include the core elements of IWRM, that is, the value of water in use (water as a social and economic good), the role of women in water management and the sustainability of the resource. The legal framework may emphasise principles in support of such IWRM elements, such as: polluter pays principle, the river basin approach, public participation, reform of financing, ecological protection and equitable access to water resources.

Other legal reform topics which help create a strong IWRM framework include:

  • The enabling institutional framework, including the legal roles and responsibilities of institutions and their inter-relationship;
  • Mechanisms for stakeholders to participate in water resources management;
  • Conflict resolution mechanisms;
  • Water services and associated rights and responsibilities, covering, for example: provision of water for basic human needs, and standards of service (quality of water provided, assurance of supply, efficiency levels, etc);
  • Tariff and water pricing systems, including principles of fairness, affordability and protection of the poorest;
  • Customer protection mechanisms, such as timely and appropriate access to information, participation and involvement in water management;
  • Equitable allocation of water rights;
  • Clear mechanisms for the transfer of water rights to minimise conflicts and risk of social unrest;
  • Regulatory functions.

Lessons learned

Experience teaches the following lessons:

  • New legislation should be socially acceptable and administratively feasible;
  • Water law is closely linked to land use in many countries. The close links between land use and water availability and quality should be reflected in water law. Note, however, that a strict link between land and water rights can pose problems for water markets (see C7.3);
  • Water law needs to tread a careful line between completeness and flexibility. It needs to be flexible enough to reflect changing circumstances, yet explicit and complete enough to ensure full discussion of the basic principles and policies and their implications. If not sufficiently firm and clear, framework legislation may allow for arbitrary decision-making by implementers;
  • National water laws must take into account any International Conventions accepted by that country;
  • Legislative change creates stress for existing uses and water rights. In law reform, existing rights and uses and the entitlements of rural and indigenous populations should be protected and transitional provisions made. (Tools for conflict resolution and consensus building can support law reform, see C5).

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