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A2 LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK Water policy translated into law

Water is a fugitive and scarce resource with multiple uses, which can lead to conflicts of use, negative externalities and upstream-downstream conflicts. It is also renewable and its sustainable use requires integrated management. Water legislation can create a framework for such integrated management and determines the way that economic factors relate to water resources, providing the context for private, public, community and individual water activities. Water law exists to:

  • Clarify the entitlement and responsibilities of users and water providers:
  • Clarify the role of the state vis-a-vis other stakeholders;
  • Formalise the process of transfer of water allocations;
  • Provide legal status for various water user groups;
  • Ensure sustainability of the resource.

Thus, water legislation provides a structure for both conservation and development goals. At its best, it can spur efficient investment in water development and conservation. At its worst, it can deter both investment and conservation, and promote monopolies.

Security and flexibility of rights are two main structural features of legislation in general and of water law in particular. Water legislation addresses, among other things, the ownership of water resources, the legal nature and stability of water rights, the effective and beneficial use of water, the transferability of water rights, and the need to acknowledge and respect existing uses and customary entitlements when changing water legislation. Water law also seeks to prevent the transfer of negative externalities, restrict monopolies, and reduce transaction costs. In addition, water law sets out the duties and functions of water/environmental management agencies and water service providers.

Many countries have signed and ratified international conventions and treaties that guide and influence laws affecting water so national laws must also be seen in this context.

Water law can achieve its goals through regulatory norms, which can address many issues including:

  • Water conservation;
  • Protection of water supplies;
  • Establishment of preferences and priorities;
  • Protection of water quality;
  • Technology and efficiency requirements;
  • Creation of management areas;
  • Basin management principles;
  • Monitoring;
  • Information requirements;
  • Administrative rights of entry and inspection;
  • Creation and enforcement of public rights;
  • Emergency measures;
  • Registration and recording of uses and supplies.



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