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May / June 2003

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Founder : Len Abrams
Water Policy International

 

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Water Resource Management Policy

Guidelines for the preparation of a water policy document

Len Abrams
Water Policy International
len.abrams@waterpolicy.com

 

Contents

1. Introduction

2. General policy writing guidelines
    2.1. What is policy
    2.2. Policy is dynamic
    2.3. Political endorsement
    2.4. Policy writing process
    2.5. Style

3. Contents
    3.1. Preface
    3.2. Executive summary
    3.3. Introduction
    3.4. Overall description of the role of water
    3.5. Main policy principles
    3.6. Policy Details
    3.7. Conclusion

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This document aims to provide a framework to assist policy makers to develop water resources management policy at country level. It is not intended to provide any content or any specific recommended policy position. It is a skeleton designed to provide guidance in the formulation of policy and a check list of issues to be covered. The specifics of water resource management policy are country dependent and need to be worked out by the country concerned with the full participation of all interested and effected parties.

The framework should not be regarded as a rigid template for policy formulation but should be used as a tool to be adapted as necessary. It is based on international best practice drawn from recent international conferences; the FAO publication "Reforming Water Resource Policy"; the joint FAO, the World Bank and the UNDP publication "Water sector policy review and strategy formulation - a general framework"; and practical experience in policy development.

It should be noted that this is primarily a framework for the development of water resource management policy and not water supply policy. Whilst water resource management policy and water use sub-sectors such as water supply policy are obviously closely related, many countries prefer to develop them as separate policies.

This document is divided into two main sections. The first section provides some general guidelines to policy writing aimed at producing clear and concise policy documents, and the second section comprises the "skeleton" contents of a policy document.

2. General policy writing guidelines.

                    2.1 What is policy

      Firstly, it is important to have a clear understanding of what policy is and what it is not.

      Policy is the set of decisions, made ultimately by the highest political level in a country after a process of dialogue and consultation, which determine what and how things will be done in any given sector. Thus each country needs macro-economic policies and sectoral policies such as an education policy, a health policy, a housing policy, a water policy etc. Policy sets out the framework for the sector - the guidelines as to how development should take place and how the environment should be protected.

      Policy, once adopted politically, provides the mandate for the civil service - a government departmentsí role is to implement the policy.

      Policy is often confused with implementing strategies. Although strategic planning may have implicit elements of policy in it, it is not policy but rather a plan of how to implement policy. For example, "the precautionary principle of pollution control shall be adopted" is a policy statement. (It requires industrialists and other potential polluters of water to prove that discharges are not harmful to the environment and to public health before discharges are made, rather than requiring the responsible authority to prove actual damage and harm after discharges have been made.) Such a policy statement has far reaching implications but it does not provide an indication of how it would be implemented. A process or plan of how to implement such a policy would constitute the strategic planning component of water resource management. It is important that policy is developed and adopted first, and that thereafter other activities such as planning and socio-economic strategy development are undertaken or reviewed in terms of the policy. This will ensure greater consistency in planning and greater success in project implementation.

      It is not suggested, however, that current development undertakings should be delayed or suspended until policy is adopted, but rather that existing strategic plans should be reviewed in the light of new policy developments as they emerge.

      Policy should also not be confused with legislation. Once a policy has been developed and adopted, the legislation needs to be examined to see where amendments and changes are needed so that the policy can be implemented.

      There may also be instances where policy is not legally possible in terms of existing legislation, a countryís constitution or conflicting macro- or sectoral policy. It is therefore important that during any policy development process, consideration is continuously given to the legal implications of proposed policy and the consistency between the emerging water policy and the policy of other sectors.

                    2.2 Policy is dynamic

      Policy is the distillation of current social, political, economic and technological perspectives in a country. Such perspectives are always changing and therefore policy should also be regarded as dynamic and flexible. For example, a few decades ago the technology was not available to drill and pump groundwater from deep level boreholes. There was therefore no need for a policy on deep level acquifer management and protection. Now that such technology is available, such policy is urgently required in some situations.

      This is not to suggest that water policy should be continuously changing which would result in uncertainty and would constrain development. Such a situation would be as bad as a policy which was rigid and did not take changing realities into account. Policy should therefore be flexible whilst providing a firm basis for planning and development.

                    2.3 Political endorsement

      Although policy requires technical expertise to develop, it requires political will to implement. Policy, ultimately, is a political statement of how a certain sector is to be regulated and how public funds are going to be spent. Political endorsement and support is therefore a central element of policy development. Often policy positions which are considered essential for proper water resource management may be unpopular and may require difficult political decisions to be made. It is important that the politician is fully briefed.

      Politicians should therefore be fully briefed about the implications and consequences of different policy options and about the process of policy development.. The process of policy development itself should stem from a political mandate and politicians should be actively engaged at appropriate times.

                    2.4 Policy writing process

      If policy is to be effectively implemented it should be as broadly accepted as possible. The planning of a policy formulation process should be carefully undertaken. The principles of transparency, accountability and genuine participation should be built into the design which allow for a free debate and the examination of different options. A clear policy formulation programme should be drawn up which provides clear targets, dates, outputs and points of interaction with all of the stakeholders. Guidelines for designing of such a frame work are provided in the FAO, World Bank and UNDP documentation mentioned above.

      A policy formulation programme should not be unduly rushed so as to provide sufficient time for genuine consultation and participation.

      Use should be made of out-of-country expertise but such inputs should not be permitted to control or manipulate the formulation of domestic policy. The same should apply to the use of foreign funding to support domestic policy development.

                    2.5 Style

The writing and presentation of policy documentation is very important. This is the "front window" to the public and the parties affected by the policy. The following points should be borne in mind:-

3. Contents

                    3.1 Preface

      A brief preface should be used to start the document. The preface should give the overall objective of the policy and how it fits into the development of the country as a whole, and should be signed by the Minister responsible for water resource management. It constitutes a "message" from the Minister to the country in general and sector professionals in particular. This is very important because it gives the policy its political authority.

                    3.2 Executive summary

      This should provide summaries of the main policy positions presented in the paper.

                    3.3 Introduction

Items to be covered in the introduction should include:-

           3.4 Overall description of the role of water
                      3.5 Main policy principles

It is often useful to provide a context for the detailed policy which makes up most of the document. Policy principles provide an overall framework. Attention should be given to current international understandings of broad policy principles arising out recent international conferences. The key international events are as follows:-

The main tenants of policy to emerge from these meetings were, in extremely summarised form, as follows:-

Particular emphasis has been given to the sustainable management of water as a limited natural resource, arising mainly out of Agenda 21. Protection and conservation of the resource base is seen as essential to the sustainable utilisation of water and to water security.

Water is increasingly becoming regarded as a potential point of conflict as the pressures of population growth and development place growing demands on limited, finite resources. The relationship between water security, food security, catchment degradation and national security is playing an increasing role in international relations.

                    3.6 Policy Details

The main body of the policy document is taken up by detailed policy covering a comprehensive range of issues which together make up a holistic and integrated body of policy covering all aspects of water resource management. Many of the different elements are inter-related and should be cross-referenced where necessary.

The various policy items below should not be regarded a comprehensive list of all the issues which should be covered in a water resources management policy. All items should be carefully considered in the light of local circumstances. There are very likely to be a number of issues which are not mentioned below but which should be included in policy.

      1. Water Supply

Water supply policy is often addressed in a separate policy document. The main points which need to be considered are as follows:

      1. Water utilisation policy
      2. Policies need to be developed which will contribute to the achievement of national, regional and local social and economic development whilst ensuring environmental sustainability.

        Methods of allocation should enable a balance to be struck between equitable apportionment amongst sectors and optimum efficiency of usage.

        Utilisation policy should take account of demographic and social trends whilst ensuring the achievement of objectives such as food security.

        Methods of utilisation control should suit the circumstances in terms of administrative capacity, enforcement ability and institutional sustainability of the authority. This is particularly important in situations of scarcity (when demand exceeds supply) or when there is competition between users.

        Policy should provide for utilisation by all sectors including domestic supplies and stock watering, agriculture (both irrigated and dry land activities), forestry, industry, municipal usage, power generation, mining, tourism and leisure. The environment is increasingly being regarded as the resource base and not a "user" (see below under the environment).

        Specific policy relating to the exploitation of groundwater should be developed. Different policy may need to be adopted where renewable groundwater is concerned as opposed to "fossil" ground water resources which are not replenished by surface recharge.

        Policy should also be formulated covering other methods of water supply such as rainwater harvesting, desalination and inter-basin transfer schemes.

      3. Water quality policy
      4. Policy is required which will ensure the maintenance of water quality conducive to sustained economic and social development whilst ensuring adequate protection of the environment.

        Mechanisms need to be established to control waste discharges and manage water quality, including enforcement. The policy should include both incentives and deterrents to ensure water quality standards are upheld. Such measures as the precautionary principle, the "polluter pays principle" and the setting of receiving water quality standards have all been used with success. Clear objectives need to be established for the control of discharges and the setting of standards for waterbodies.

        Appropriate policy should be adopted to take account of different circumstances such as special measures in situations of particular sensitivity. Variations may also be appropriate during different seasons.

        Attention should also be given to policy related to catchment management in order to control factors such as sedimentation and diffuse pollution.

        Policy should provide for inter-sectoral interaction to review the impact of sectoral policies on water quality for example the effects of agricultural inputs and industrial development.

      5. Water and the environment
      6. Closely related to water quality issues is the question of the sustaining of the environment. There are increasing concerns regarding the environment and the role which the environment plays in ensuring that water, as a renewable resource, is able to meet the needs of the country into the foreseeable future. Increasingly, the environment is being regarded as the resource base - the source of the water on which so much depends. Recent indications are that water resources can, to a degree, only be considered to be renewable to the extent to which the resource base is sustained and that water has an environmental opportunity cost.

        Policy development should seek to establish an understanding amongst all interested parties of the importance sustaining the environment. Sustaining the environment entails conserving several elements including water quality, water quantity above certain minimum levels, the physical characteristics of water courses, riverine biota, wet-lands, fisheries and coastal development.

        Policy should be formulated which will ensure that internationally accepted methods of environmental impact assessments are undertaken when developments are planned. Adequate monitoring and ongoing assessment of key environmental indicators should be accommodated in policy.

        Particular attention should be paid to sensitive environmental areas such as upper catchment areas, wetlands and deltas. Policy is also required relating to the control of invasive plant species in catchment areas, water hyacinth, nutrient levels in water bodies and the like.

      7. Water economics
      8. In recent years increasing emphasis has been given to the economic value of water. The economics of water is one of the most important sections of water resource management policy which needs balanced with cultural and social concerns.

        The policy should aim to accord water its proper economic value and enable the water economy of the country to be integrated with the broader economy seamlessly and transparently. There are increasing examples of the commercialisation of water services and the establishment of mechanisms through which water can be traded so that its "real" value is attained. The objective of policy relating to the economics of water should be to ensure optimum efficiency and most beneficial use whilst also meeting required objectives of social development and environmental sustainability.

        Policy should ensure that a balance is maintained between ensuring that water for basic human needs is available to the poorest of the poor, and that where it is used for production or other beneficial use, it is properly valued.

        Pricing and tariff policies need to be widely consulted on and the effects of pricing alternatives on all other sectors of the economy should be assessed, for example the effects of tariffs on commodity prices etc..

        Policy should include clearly determining the uses to which budgetary resource should be put, what aspects of water resources management and development should be subsidised and where recurrent costs should be met from water tariff revenue.

        Clear policy should be developed relating to the role of the private sector in water management and development, and the role of foreign donors and financiers.

        In situations of scarcity, policy should be considered whereby demand management can be exercised through the proper pricing of water, together with or as an alternative to, conventional supply management practices.

        Using water to dilute pollutants or as a transport mechanism to dispose of waste has a value to the polluter and, very possibly, a cost to other users. Issuing of licenses and permits at a cost to the polluter for waste disposal is a method of attaching a value to the activity, controlling it, and providing incentives to keep waste disposal through water courses to a minimum. Policy relating to compensation of water users who suffer pollution from others should be considered.

      9. Water resources development policy
      10. Policy is required to guide the development of water resources. This may vary from the development of irrigation potential, hydroelectric generation, flood protection and catchment conservation. Water resources development policy should be consistent with other sectoral policies and with national economic development policies and plans.

        Water resource development should be economically viable and sustainable, and should not be beyond the administrative and managerial capacity of the relevant institutions.

      11. Trans-boundary water policy

Trans-boundary policy development is essential in relation to international watercourses to promote regional co-operation and optimum utilisation of resources. It is very complex and is constrained to a degree by international convention and guidelines. It is of vital importance that a country develop its policies towards trans-boundary water matters and that it is aware of all the relevant issues, including government policy in other sectors, before it enters into negotiations with other countries sharing the same watercourse.

Trans-boundary water policy is often developed as a separate but related activity to domestic water resource management policy, however, in some countries where the main water resource is an international watercourse, the two are not readily separable.

Amongst the issues which need to be addressed in trans-boundary water policy are:-

  • Legal entitlement to abstraction and utilisation in terms of internationally recognised practice.
  • General policy and principles related to equitable sharing and co-operation.
  • Water utilisation requirements, present and future. This exercise is critical to "stake a claim" to the rightful proportion and share of water. This requires multi-sectoral planning and development policy in the framework of a national macro-economic plan. This will provide the projected water needs for agriculture, drinking water supply, the environment and tourism, industry, power generation, mining, forestry, fisheries etc.
  • The review of all related agreements and treaties related to international waters.
  • Protection of the environment and matters relating to water quality, the control of alien species, catchment protection including the issue of incentives for up-stream countries to protect the catchment etc..
  • Questions of trans-boundary water economics and the value of water, including issues related to the sale of water across boundaries.
  • Information management and decision making tools. Policy and procedures on the sharing of information with other Basin States should be developed.
  • The monitoring of agreements and utilisation by Basin States.
  • The principles and policy regarding River Basin Institutions.
  • Principles, policy and procedures regarding the planning and execution of works which may influence to Basin characteristics.
  • Principles and policies in regard to emergencies, disasters, aggression and conflict.
  • Matters related to confidentiality and sovereignty.
      1. Information management and monitoring
      2. Policy is required to give guidance to the establishment and maintenance of an information management and monitoring system. Hydrological, meteorological, hydrogeological and other information needs to be collected, collated, captured and analysed. Policy is required regarding the payment for and access to information by other government departments, the public, external agencies and the governments of other countries.

      3. Institutional framework
      4. Policy is needed with regards to the institutional framework of the sector. The roles of different levels of government should be clearly set out - central or federal government, provincial or state government and local or municipal government. The principle of appropriate responsible authority and functions being devolved to the lowest possible level is increasingly being regarded as best practice and most likely to result in sustainable development. The roles of different tiers of government in relation to the setting of standards and norms and the powers of enforcement should be clearly set out. The institutional arrangements should be consistent with the other government policies such as decentralisation. Clarity should be provided on fiscal and budgetary arrangements and inter-governmental transfers, subsidy schemes etc.

        The role of the private sector, public utility or parastatal organisations, universities, research institutes, professional and trade associations, NGOs, bi-lateral and multi-lateral aid agencies, international development agencies and development financing institutions should all be clarified. It should be clearly stated that all such organisations should function in terms of the sector policy.

        Policy should seek to encourage public institutions to be accountable, accessible, transparent, efficient and to operate without undue bureaucracy.

      5. Human resource development
      6. Policy on human resource development should be formulated in order to ensure that the skills are established at country level to carry out the necessary functions. The policy should include factors such as ensuring that all foreign assistance and technical assistance contributes the growth of knowledge and experience of nationals through counter-part or similar arrangements. The policy should require that all aid agreements are in line with these requirements. Much is said about capacity building at present but a great deal of what passes for capacity building is ad-hoc activities which do not fit into any policy framework. Policy should be formulated to ensure that maximum benefit is gained from capacity building activities.

      7. Research and development
      8. Policy needs to be established to promote and guide adequate research and development to support the sector. Such policy could include the requirement for the establishment of an over-sight body made up of experts drawn from all sectors to guide research and development activities and recommend how R&D funding is spent.

      9. Navigation
      10. Policy covering navigable waters may need to be formulated in some cases.

      11. Public safety
      12. Many hydrological structures such as dams and reservoirs are potential hazards and could cause extensive damage to property and loss of life if they were to fail. Policy is required to protect the public and should include licensing and approval measures, monitoring and regular safety checks, approval of operating rules and the likes. The policy should also clearly indicate who should bare the cost of professional fees, safety checks etc. required to comply with the regulations. Note that the policy itself is not the regulations but that regulations may need to be formulated or reviewed in terms of the policy.

      13. Disaster management policy
      14. Policy is also required to guide disaster management in times of drought, flood, toxic spills etc.. Often such policy is written as a separate policy to the water resource management policy and if this is the case then reference should be made to such policy and care should be taken to ensure that both policies are consistent. Disaster management policies need to cover a wide range of matters including disaster mitigation, early warning systems, crisis reaction and intervention, public awareness, institutional aspects, emergency powers, international assistance, security questions etc.

      15. Legislative implications
      16. A policy document often has a section which identifies existing legislation which will need to be amended, new legislation or regulations which may be required and a programme for legislative reform. It is important to ensure that legislation is "enabling" and developmental. It should promote good practice and creativity and not lead to undue control of the sector. The legal status of water and water rights need to be clear.

      17. Strategic planning and implementation

Policy on its own does not constitute development. The process needs to lead on to planning and implementation. The policy should provide a framework for planning and the integration of planning in the water sector with planning in other sectors.

Policy should be formulated as to how planning is carried out and should encourage participatory planning processes. Due recognition should be given to macro-planning and economic development.

3.7 Conclusion

The policy should have a concluding chapter which emphasises the need for consistent policy within the sector and the need for water management policy to be consistent with policy in other sectors.

The conclusion may also refer to the implementation of policy. This may have to be done in stages because of the administrative capacity of the government. Such phases should be clearly set out in the policy.

The conclusion should also re-emphasise that policy is dynamic and that the policy contained in the document will need to be reviewed from time to time.

4. Conclusion

This document should be used with caution as a guideline only. There are many issues which are not covered and there are issues included which may not be relevant to all circumstances.

Policy development is a creative exercise. Often the process of policy formulation can be almost as important as the content in bringing consensus and unity of purpose to the development of a nationís natural resources. The potential for conflict, however, is also high, requiring careful and sensitive handling.

Care should be taken to ensure that the policy which is developed is realistic and able to be implemented. Policy which is unrealistic, impractical or impossible to implement encourages disrespect and disregard for policy.

 


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