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B1.4 River basin organisations


River basin organisations (RBOs) are specialised organisations set up by political authorities, or in response to stakeholder demands. RBOs deal with the water resource management issues in a river basin, a lake basin, or across an important aquifer. The focus here is on the basin organisations that are domestic and do not transcend state boundaries. River basin organisations provide a mechanism for ensuring that land use and needs are reflected in water management – and vice versa. Experience has varied dramatically in the ability of these organisations to achieve IWRM. Their functions vary from water allocation, resource management and planning, to educating basin communities and developing natural resources management strategies and programmes of remediation of degraded lands and waterways. They may also play a role in consensus building, facilitation and conflict management (C5).

Recent innovation has focused on an integrated river basin management approach (IRBM), a subset of IWRM, and catchment management rather than single sector approaches. (See also C2.2, Basin management plans.)

The form and role of a river basin organisation is closely linked to its historical and social context. Key characteristics of sustainable river basin management are:

  • Basin-wide planning to balance all user needs for water resources and to provide protection from water-related hazards;
  • Wide public and stakeholder participation in decision making and local empowerment (B2.1);
  • Effective demand management (C3);
  • Agreement on commitments within the basin, and mechanisms for monitoring those agreements;
  • Adequate human and financial resources.

Varying opinions exist about the most effective scale of application. The success of a river basin organisation may depend on aspects such as the level of human and institutional capacity of the civil society, the degree to which water resources are developed, and climatic variability (arid versus temperate river basins, for example). The policy and legislative framework will govern the purpose and effectiveness of the RBO.

Lessons learned

Experience shows that all RBOs evolve with time and see their composition and duties adapted from time to time reflecting the real needs of the moment. Successful river basin organisations are supported by:

  • An ability to establish trusted technical competencies;
  • A focus on serious recurrent problems such as flooding or drought or supply shortages, and the provision of solutions acceptable to all stakeholders;
  • A broad stakeholder involvement, catering for grassroots participation at a basin-wide level (e.g. through water forums);
  • An ability to generate some form of sustaining revenue;
  • The capacity to collect fees, and attract grants and/or loans;
  • Clear jurisdictional boundaries and appropriate powers.

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