Local authorities (B1.02)


In general water resources regulation and planning takes place at the national or sub-national level. The role of local authorities and governments in supporting IWRM is particularly strong where there are movements towards decentralisation and democratisation of planning and resource management, especially of land. Depending on the administrative context, local governments can act as regulators and agents of enforcement. They are also service providers and may likely have some role in financing needed water infrastructure. Despite varying levels of jurisdiction over water services, local governments have both direct and indirect responsibility for the water security of their communities and their industrial base. In the same way, regional governments also have responsibilities as environmental stewards.

In the context of IWRM, local authorities affect the aquatic ecosystems through their energy supplies, land uses (including zoning and impermeable areas), point and non-point pollution control, (if authority has been delegated to them) construction practices, public education, solid waste and urban drainage practices, among other areas. Improved coordination and integration of the efforts of all the relevant actors toward commonly accepted goals for their water resources is necessary to improve the quality of water bodies and the security of the watersheds and aquifers on which they depend.

Local governments offer a strong forum for local participation, and can be instrumental in providing information and supporting dialogue among stakeholders and policy makers (see also Tools C5). Long-term planning initiatives must be indeed supplemented by concrete actions to retain stakeholders' interest. A forum for better bottom-up participation may include, for example, volunteer water quality monitoring programmes, local river restoration initiatives, riparian vegetation planting and community river festivals. Such events will allow proactive community members and industries to provide further support to the longer-term commitments to the sustainable use of a river and strengthen the local enforcement in a general sense.

Apart from command and control measures, local governments have limited but important economic instruments available to them to influence the behaviour of their citizenry. These include local charges and penalties, fees for permits, special local taxes and surcharges, and incentives (such as bonuses and rebates). These economic instruments are complemented by a variety of command and control regulatory instruments, such as by-laws, that local governments can use to influence the good implementation of IWRM practices within their boundaries.

It is suggested that the enforcing entities at the local level obtains its directives and budget allocation from the same institution. In some instances, the local authorities have relied on one boss for on-ground instructions and enforcement guidelines and has depended on another for its funding. Because governmental entities are driven by different institutional goals, some of them might end up acting against each other (e.g. the environmental protection agencies versus the ministries for industrial development). Experience shows that when conflict happens between the ‘‘two bosses’’, the performance of ground-level enforcement has been severely hampered. It is vital that the relevant regulatory bodies establish clear cut administrative and fiscal responsibilities so that this so-called ‘‘two bosses’’ syndrome does not occur.

Lessons learned

The wide range of jurisdiction and activity in the area of IWRM makes generalisations about their effectiveness difficult.

Nonetheless the following lessons are applicable in relation to local authorities:

  • Because IWRM is context-specific - local leadership is needed to initiate sustainable processes in communities - the use of local enforcement authority shows to be key.
  • Local authorities must understand that their actions not only affect their own locality but will also have some implications for the broader region and should seek to join or initiate local cooperation networks.
  • Local enforcement authorities should not be under the administrative authority of one body which is financially dependent on another. Conflicts of interest may happen between institutional bodies (or ‘‘bosses’’) and that can effectively undermine local enforcement of water related rules and regulations.
  • Local authorities have a role in encouraging the space for stakeholder engagement. Activities for environmental stewardship are a good way of doing that, while building environmental consciousness at the community level.
  • The principle of subsidiarity depends on strong local leaders and leadership. In other words, institutional decentralisation cannot happen without having people at the local level who are willing and show capacity at taking action in the context of water governance.