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Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM):

River Basin Organisations


River Basin Organisations are umbrella organisations for basin-wide water resources management (GWP 2009a). There are many types: basin commissions, basin directorates, basin associations or councils, and corporations. Within transboundary watercourses, River Basin Organisations are established to promote cooperationand and resolve conflict. Many are originally set up to deal with specific technical issues, but once the benefits of cooperation become apparent to stakeholders, their mandates are often expanded.

River Basin Organisations are generally tasked with (GWP 2009a):

  • Monitoring, investigating, co-ordination and regulating basin activities;
  • Planning and financial management; and
  • Developing and managing infrastructure.

The presence of a strong institution that is resilient over time, even during times of conflict, is also seen as a one of the most important factors leading to cooperation within a transboundary river basin (Giordano and Wolf 2003). A critical factor is that the organisations have decision-making and enforcement powers, and not just advisory roles.

The following factors were identified by Giordano and Wolf (2003) as supporting cooperative management:

  • Adaptable management structures that are flexible to public concerns, changing basin priorities, and new information and monitoring technologies
  • Clear and flexible criteria for water allocations and water quality management, supported by water quality standards, enhanced information and understanding of basin dynamics
  • Equitable distribution of the benefits derived from water in terms of hydroelectric power, agriculture, economic development or environmental protection
  • Concrete mechanisms for conflict resolution

Functions of a River Basin Organisation

River Basin Organisations perform a number of functions, including development of policies and plans for regional natural resources management and planning. This function includes evaluating the status and trends of natural resources within a basin, analysing stakeholder needs related to natural resource management, identifying subcatchment goals and implementation guidelines, developing cost-sharing programs, outlining monitoring programs, and coordinating decision-making related to natural resources management (IWR 2006).

A pan in southern Namibia.
Source:DRFN 2006
( click to enlarge )

The key functions of River Basin Organisations identified by the Global Water Partnership (2009) are outlined below.

Box: Main Functions of Basin Organisations

Monitoring, investigating, co-coordinating and regulating:

  • Collecting Data: Collecting, managing and communicating data regarding water availability, water demand, and water quality to support different basin functions.
  • Prevention, Monitoring and Enforcement: Monitoring and control of water pollution, salinity levels and ground water extraction – ensuring that they remain within accepted limits and enforcing relevant laws and regulations to prevent degradation/over-exploitation and to restore ecosystems.
  • Coordinating: Harmonising policies and actions undertaken in the basin by state and non-state actors relevant to land and water management.

Planning and Financing:

  • Allocating Water: Defining mechanisms and criteria by which water is apportioned among user sectors.
  • Planning: Formulating medium-to long-term plans for developing and managing water resources in the basin.
  • Mobilising Resources: Ensuring financing through different means, such as, water user fees or water taxes.

Developing and Managing:

  • Constructing Facilities: Designing and constructing water infrastructure.
  • Maintaining Facilities: Maintaining water infrastructure.
  • Operation and Management: Ensuring that dams, navigation and water distribution infrastructure, and wastewater treatment plants are properly operated; that allocated water reaches its point of use; and that surface and ground water and conjunctively managed.
  • Preparing Against Water Discharges: Protecting from floods and developing emergency works, flood/drought preparedness plans, and coping mechanisms.
  • Protecting and Conserving Ecosystems: Defining priorities and implementing actions to protect ecosystems, including awareness campaigns.

GWP 2009a





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