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B1.10 Local authorities


Local authorities can play an important role in overseeing the implementation of IWRM activities both within their boundaries and within the local and regional watersheds. They act both as regulators and as service providers and have a role in raising finance. Despite varying levels of jurisdiction over water services, local governments have both direct and indirect responsibility for the water security of their communities and their industrial base.

In the context of IWRM, local authorities affect the aquatic ecosystems through their energy supplies, land uses (including zoning and impermeable areas), point and non-point pollution, construction practices, public education, solid waste and urban drainage practices, among other aspects. Improved integration of the efforts of all the relevant actors toward commonly accepted goals for their water resources is necessary to improve the quality of water bodies and the security of the watersheds and aquifers on which they depend.

The role of local authorities and governments in supporting IWRM is particularly strong where there are moves towards decentralisation and democratisation of planning and resource management. Local governments offer a strong forum for local participation, particularly through internationally recognised programmes, such as Local Agenda 21 planning, and can be instrumental in providing information and supporting dialogue among stakeholders and policy makers (see also C4.2 on communications with stakeholders).

Local governments have a variety of economic instruments available to them to influence the behaviour of their citizenry. These include rate structures and charges, fees for permits and other governmental services, special taxes and surcharges, incentives (such as bonuses and rebates) as well as fines and penalties. These economic instruments are complemented by a variety of regulatory instruments, such as by-laws, which local governments can use to influence the implementation of IWRM practices within their boundaries (see C6, C7).

Lessons learned

The wide range of jurisdiction and activity in the area of IWRM makes generalisations about their effectiveness difficult. Nonetheless the following lessons are applicable:

  • Stakeholders should be connected to decision making processes and involved in a real dialogue with decision makers that can survive changes in government;
  • Public access to baseline information about the quality of local water resources and issues (related to the long-term water security of communities) is essential for the public to be responsibly involved;
  • Local leadership is needed to initiate sustainable processes in communities;
  • Long-term planning initiatives need to be supplemented by concrete actions to retain stakeholders interest. For example, local visions for improved stream corridors should be tied to local recognition and reward systems, volunteer water quality monitoring programmes, tree planting and community river festivals. In the short term, such events provide proactive community members and industries with positive reinforcement from the community and their peers, increasing their longer-term commitment to the programme;
  • Changes to municipal policies are most effective when linked to concrete changes in official staff roles and responsibilities (such as through an environmental management system process);
  • The influence of local governments is limited by their political remit and their financial resources i.e. they can only be effective given an appropriate enabling environment;
  • Stakeholder based initiatives, such as Local Agenda 21 planning, can play a significant role in breaking down political barriers to IWRM activities in urban areas.

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