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B1.6 Service providers and IWRM


Service providers range from government departments and municipalities, public corporations and private sector companies to community-based organisations and farmers groups. They are the providers of water to rural and urban communities for irrigation and water supply including drinking, industrial uses, etc. They may also provide sanitation, treatment, and pollution control services. In some cases, service providers may be natural resource management agencies which provide nature conservation or they may be agencies reducing peoples vulnerability to natural hazards such as floods. Service providers may also be required to preserve hydrological balances and ensure resource sustainability.

The legal framework for service providers is set out in water legislation, which covers issues such as responsibilities and requirements (see A2). Approaches to improve efficiency in service providers are indicated in B1.6, the specific characteristics of the role of the private sector in service delivery are reviewed in B1.7. Less formal service suppliers (water vendors, farmers with water from private wells) may lie outside the formal legislative framework but can be essential for meeting local needs.

National IWRM policies determine the roles and responsibilities of the various levels of service provision and the way in which they can be used to develop an integrated cross-sectoral approach. Such policies will be enforced through the appropriate regulatory bodies. Water users and providers should comply with agreed national and state standards of water use, conservation and health.

Organisations with water supply, sewerage, treatment and reuse functions are increasingly driven by the need to make efficiency gains: to do more with less water, to eliminate subsidies, incorporate externalities and minimise impacts, to recover costs of operation, maintenance and replacement of water and wastewater systems, and to transfer the cost of supply and treatment from the provider (usually government) to the consumer (citizens, private companies and other government organisations and users).

Lessons learned

The structure of service providers is linked to the social economic and political structures of the society, so generalisations are difficult. However, there are some broad lessons in terms of effectiveness and efficiency:

  • Efficient water service providers are likely to be characterised by a desire to achieve high standards in water use and reuse, using a range of tools (C3 demand management), awareness techniques and technical innovation (C4);
  • Efficient and equitable service delivery is more straightforward in a system of well-defined property rights and obligations for water for all uses (see A2.1);
  • Benchmarking can help to enforce performance.

Technical tools for ensuring good service provision include:

  • Systems of water pricing related to volume and timing, for all applications (C7);
  • Periodic audits of the activities of the private and public sector regarding water resources management;
  • Transparent use of economic instruments (C7);
  • Management systems which secure best practice use and reuse of water resources while minimising off-site, groundwater, and downstream impacts on freshwater ecosystem services (C3);
  • Technical innovations can include increased efficiency in storage, conveyance and distribution of water and techniques for waste minimisation (C3);
  • Effective regulation and clear government policies (A1).

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