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Water resource policy

Water resource policy encompasses the policy-making processes that have an impact on the collection, preparation, use and disposal of water to support human uses and protect environmental quality.

Water policy addresses provision, use, disposal and sustainability decisions. Provision includes identification, access, preparation for use and distribution. Uses include direct human consumption, agriculture, industry and ecosystem protection.[1] Policy must set the rules for how water is allocated to the different uses. Disposal involves wastewater treatment and stormwater/flood management. Sustainability addresses issues such as aquifer depletion, reservoir management and mineral buildup.
"Supply isn't just about water production, it is also about distribution infrastructure."[2]:9

A second dimension of issues addresses how policies are created, executed and amended. Since water resources often cross political boundaries, water policies must often be negotiated among multiple political entities (nations, states, etc.) Commentators such as Halcrow project resource wars as demand continues to increase.[3]:27

Policy makers typically adopt a set of best management practices BMPs to govern water management. BMPs cover everything from dam construction to wastewater treatment protocols.

Water resource policies may encompass
"regions, catchments, shared or transboundary water resources, and inter-basin transfers. Policy leads management practices, but best management practices are identified, evaluated, modified and disseminated by policy making bodies."[4]

Water resource policy issues are receiving increased attention[3] as water shortages are believed to be at crisis levels in some regions.[5] These regional crises have the potential worldwide implications.[6][7]

Organizations such as the Global Water Policy Project have sprung up to promote awareness and prod governments and NGOs into heightened awareness of the problems.[8]

World water availability


  • Global water resource policy objectives 1
  • Institutional participants 2
    • Multilateral 2.1
    • Bilateral 2.2
    • NGOs 2.3
    • Business water resource policy initiatives 2.4
  • Structural constraints on policy makers 3
    • Jurisdictional issues 3.1
      • California water regulatory bodies 3.1.1
      • Typical information access issue 3.1.2
  • Issues 4
    • Flood control 4.1
      • Multi-jurisdictional issues 4.1.1
    • Freshwater 4.2
      • Surface and groundwater 4.2.1
      • Constituencies 4.2.2
    • Seawater 4.3
      • Pollution 4.3.1
    • Surface water (runoff) and wastewater discharge 4.4
    • Stormwater runoff 4.5
    • Wastewater 4.6
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Global water resource policy objectives

According to the World Water Assessment Programme, a UN-sanctioned Task Force, the objectives for global water resource policies include developing a standardized method for monitoring water sector progress and performance, improving reporting and identifying priority actions.[9] In all nations conflict between users are expected to intensify, complicating policy-making.[10]

Institutional participants


The 1977 Mar del Plata United Nations Conference on Water was the first intergovernmental water conference, leading to the 1980 Declaration of the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade by the UN General Assembly.[11]

The United Nations Environmental Program hosts water resource policy-making agencies and disseminating BMPs worldwide. This role has been enhanced by various policy directives and other initiatives:

  • UN General Assembly Resolution 3436 (XXX) Agenda 21
  • 1997 Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP and
  • 2000 Malmö Ministerial Declaration adopted at the First Global Ministerial Environment Forum.[12]
  • 2002 Earth Summit 2015 safe drinking water targets.[13]
  • 2007 World Bank report series on Environment and Development[14] that in 2009 reported on Environmental Flows in Water Resources Policies, Plans, and Projects[15]


Treaties between nations may enumerate policies, rights and responsibilities. For instance, a treaty between Poland and Germany, "An Agreement to establish cooperation on water resources management" provides:

  • supply of drinking water of good quality,
  • protection of surface water,
  • supply of water to agriculture,
  • fight against water pollution.[16]

The Permanent Court of International Justice adjudicates disputes between nations, including water rights litigation.[17]


Some non-governmental organizations have consultative status at the UN. One such group is the

In 1994, the

  • [5]
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Water - Water Quality - Information on water quality, water testing, and understanding consumer confidence reports on water contaminants
  • U.S. National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) - Partnership of federal and state agencies
  • U.S. Geological Survey - National Water Quality Assessment Program
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Water Quality Monitoring
  • U.S. National Agricultural Library
  • American Water Resources Association
  • Global Water Quality online database
  • Beaches 911 - U.S. Beach Water Quality Monitoring
  • Maione, U.; Majone-Lehto, B.; R. Monti (1 January 2000). New Trends in Water and Environmental Engineering for Safety and Life. CRC Press. pp. 104–.  
  • Brans, Edward H. P. (1 January 1997). The Scarcity of Water: Emerging Legal and Policy Responses. Kluwer Law International. pp. 17–.  
  • Bressers, Hans; Lulofs, Kris (1 January 2010). Governance and Complexity in Water Management: Creating Cooperation Through Boundary Spanning Strategies. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 100–.  

External links

  1. ^ "Law on Water Resources Development". 
  2. ^ a b Water Price Innovation Scarcity
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Global Water Security
  4. ^ "IWRM Toolbox". 
  5. ^ "Integrated Water Resources Management". 
  6. ^ "Fight for Water Hits Crisis Levels Worldwide". 
  8. ^ "Global Water Policy Project". 
  9. ^ "Monitoring progress in the water sector: A selected set of indicators". 
  10. ^ Dehydrating Conflict by Sandra L. Postel and Aaron T. Wolf, September 18, 2001. From Global Policy Forum
  11. ^ "Giving an audible voice to water". 
  12. ^ "Division of Environmental Law and Conventions". 
  13. ^ "Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report". Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  14. ^ World Bank|Series on Environment and Development
  15. ^ Environmental Flows in Water Resources Policies, Plans, and Projects|World Bank|Series on Environment and Development
  16. ^ "Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on cooperation on water resource management". 
  17. ^ Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on cooperation on water resource management
  18. ^ a b "Vision, Mission, Strategy". World Water Council. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  19. ^ H2OScenarios
  20. ^ "The Future of Science Education". 
  21. ^ a b Poulantzas, Nicos Ar (1978). Political Power and Social Classes. Verso.  
  22. ^ Black, Henry Campbell (1999). Black's Law Dictionary. West Group.  
  23. ^
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ State Water Resources Control Board Water Quality Control Policy for the Enclosed Bays and Estuaries of California (1974) State of California
  26. ^ "Foia Lawsuit Targets U.S. Department Of Energy For Withholding 'Water Energy Roadmap' Ordered By Congress". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  27. ^ United States Geological Survey (USGS). Denver, CO. "Ground Water and Surface Water: A Single Resource." USGS Circular 1139. 1998.
  28. ^ [2]
  29. ^ "Evaluation of the Use of Forecast Interpretations information".  
  30. ^ "State and Regional Water Boards". 
  31. ^ "Whom We Regulate". 
  32. ^ "Water quality board orders Shell to clean soil at Carousel tract in Carson". 
  33. ^ "California water rules rile farmers". 
  34. ^ "Hilary Spoke To Regional Water Quality Control Board Today". 
  35. ^ Robert E. Horton, The Horton Papers (1933)
  36. ^ Beven, Keith (2004). "Robert E. Horton's perceptual model of infiltration processes". Hydrological Processes 18 (17): 3447–3460.  
  37. ^ Davis, Mackenzie; Masten, Susan (22 February 2013). Principles of Environmental Engineering Science: Third Edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.  
  38. ^ [3]
  39. ^ [4]


See also

Water treatment is subject to the same overlapping jurisdictional constraints which affect other aspects of water policy.[21] For instance, levels of chloramines with their resulting toxic trihalomethane by-product are subject to Federal guidelines even though water management implementing those policy constraints are carried out by local water boards.[39]

Sewage is technically wastewater contaminated with fecal and similar animal waste byproducts, but is frequently used as a synonym for wastewater. Origination includes cesspool and sewage outfall pipes.

  • residences
  • commercial properties
  • industry
  • agriculture

Wastewater is water that has been discharged from human use. The primary discharges flow from the following sources:


Surface runoff is water that flows when heavy rains do not infiltrate soil; excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flowing over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle.[35][36] Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a channel is also called a nonpoint source. When runoff flows along the ground, it can pick up soil contaminants including, but not limited to petroleum, pesticides, or fertilizers that become discharge or nonpoint source pollution.[37][38]

Stormwater runoff

Water quality issues or sanitation concerns reuse or water recycling and pollution control which in turn breaks out into stormwater and wastewater.

Regulatory bodies address piped waste water discharges to surface water that include riparian and ocean ecosystems.[30] These review bodies are charged with protecting wilderness ecology, wildlife habitat, drinking water, agricultural irrigation and fisheries. Stormwater discharge can carry fertilizer residue and bacterial contamination from domestic and wild animals.[31] They have the authority to make orders which are binding upon private actors such as international corporations[32] and do not hesitate to exercise the police powers of the state. Water agencies have statutory mandate which in many hurisdictions is resilient to pressure from constituents and lawmakers in which they on occasion stand their ground despite heated opposition from agricultural interests[33] On the other hand, the Boards enjoy strong support from environmental concerns such as Greenpeace,Heal the Ocean and Channelkeepers.[34]

Surface water (runoff) and wastewater discharge

Oil rigs and undersea mineral extraction can create problems that impact shorelines, marine life, fisheries and human safety. Decommissioning of such operations has another set of issues. Rigs-to-reefs is a proposal for using obsolete oil rigs as substrate for coral reefs that has failed to reach consensus.

Ballast water, fuel/oil leaks and trash originating from ships foul harbors, reefs and estuaries. Ballast water may contain toxins, invasive plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria.


Seawater resources are important for ethical-aesthetic reasons, recreation, tourism, maintenance of fisheries. The sea is a venue for shipping and for oil and mineral extraction that creates a need for regulatory policy. A variety of issues confront policy makers.


  • Residential
  • Agriculture. "Many rural people practice subsistence rain fed agriculture as a basic livelihood strategy, and as such are vulnerable to the impacts of drought or flood that can diminish or destroy a harvest. "[29]
  • Construction
  • Industrial
  • Municipal or institutional activities

Drinking water and water for utilitarian uses such as washing, crop cultivation and manufacture is competed for by various constituencies:


Surface water and groundwater can be studied and managed as separate resources as a single resource in multiple forms.[27] Jurisdictions typically distinguish three recognized groundwater classifications: subterranean streams, underflow of surface waters, and percolating groundwater.[28]

Surface and groundwater


One jurisdiction's projects may cause problems in other jurisdictions. For instance, Monterey County, California controls a body of water that acts as a reservoir for San Luis Obispo County. The specific responsibilities for managing the resource must therefore be negotiated.

Multi-jurisdictional issues

Water can produce a natural disaster in the form of tsunamis, hurricanes, rogue waves and storm surge. Land-based floods can originate from bursting dams, rivers overflowing their banks or levee failure.

Flood control


As reported by the non-partisan Civil Society Institute, a 2005 US Congressional study on water supply was suppressed and became the target of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.[26]

Typical information access issue

  • Coastal Commission
  • Coastal Conservancy
  • Department of Fish & Game
  • Department of Water Resources
  • Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES)
  • Ocean and Coastal Environmental Access Network (OCEAN)
  • Resources Agency Wetlands Information System
  • State Water Resources Control Board[24][25]
  • Public Health Departments
  • Water districts

California water regulatory bodies

In many locations, agencies may face unclear or overlapping authority, increasing conflicts and delaying conflict resolution. For instance, recent changes in California law intended to reduce air quality problems from shipping have been interfered with by Federal legal changes intended to reduce the cost of shipping.[23]

A second part of jurisdictional limitation governs the subject matter that the agency controls, such as flood control, water supply and sanitation, etc.

In some cases, limits target specific types of uses (wilderness, agricultural, urban-residential, urban-commercial, etc.)

The jurisdiction of any water agency is limited by political boundaries and by enabling legislation.

Subject matter and geographic jurisdiction are distinguishable.[22]

Jurisdictional issues

Policies are implemented by organizational entities created by government exercise of state power. However, all such entities are subject to constraints upon their autonomy.[21]

Structural constraints on policy makers

  • trade barriers
  • price supports
  • treatment of water as a free good creates underpricing of 98% of water[3]:2
  • need to intensify debate
  • need to harmonize public/private sectors[3]:28

This forum indicated policy concerns with:

In June 2011 in Geneva, the Future of Water Virtual Conference addressed water resource sustainability. Issues raised included: water infrastructure monitoring,[2] global water security, potential resource wars, interaction between water, energy, food and economic activity, the "true value" of "distribution portions of available water" and a putative "investment gap" in water infrastructure.[3][20] It was asserted that climate change will impact scarcity of water but the water security presentation emphasized that a combined effect with population growth "could be devastating".[3] Identified corporate water related risks include physical supply, regulatory and product reputation.[3]:23

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development engages stakeholders in H2OScenarios[19] that consider various alternative policies and their impacts.

Business water resource policy initiatives


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