Readings of the WRM Course

RDV Core Training Program FY98 Activity 2.2

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Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

I. Institution Structure and Policy and Legal Frameworks

    Customs, laws, regulations and organizations are interdependent, and when considering the reform of water management within the river basin,  any one aspect must be considered in the context of arrangements for the entire water resources sector.  Certain common principles govern good water management, and important lessons can be learned from experience elsewhere in the world.  Change arises from government action in four main institutional areas: Policy, Legislation, Regulation and Management.


    Central agency leadership and policy guidance is desirable.  Ideally,  overall water resources management should be the responsibility of one central level ministry.  If a national water policy exists, it should be reviewed to ensure that it relates to the river basin concept.  If it does not exist its development should be encouraged and it should be   widely circulated and adopted.  Policy formulation and review should be supported by a high level advisory body giving the government policy advice and connecting the related public interest with the technical and political interests.  Once the national policy framework is in place,  countries should then develop consistent state/provincial and regional policies.

Factors to consider


    Legislation establishes the basis for execution of policy and provides the context in which government and non-government entities and individuals take actions.  Legislation is extended across national, provincial and other legislative boundaries by inter-jurisdictional agreements.

    There is always a strong prima facie case for comprehensive agreements on international and interprovincial rivers and such agreements underpin successful basin authorities.  Another important element is to have,  especially under drought conditions,  clearly articulated basin operating rules and regulations for sharing water resources.  However, realism usually dictates a step-by-step approach in specific instances.

Factors to consider


    Regulation comprises the enforcement and monitoring of established laws, agreements, rules, regulations and standards.  Aspects typically included are:  Water and land-use rights, real-time allocations, standards of service, pricing of water services and cost recovery,  water quality and other environmental standards, land use restrictions particularly on flood plains,  the safety of facilities particularly large dams and economic instruments (e.g. user fees,  taxes,  penalties).

Factors to consider

Organization and Management

    The organization and day to day management includes financial management, data collection, planning, design, programming,  budgeting and the physical operational control of water regulation. In many countries public agencies dominate, at least for surface water, and are usually organized by sub-sector. Functional linkages between water and land, surface and groundwater, and water quality and quantity are often weak,  and in particular the coordination of data collection .
    In defining organizational responsibility for functions , two basic principles should  apply:  Regulatory and operational functions should be separated into independent roles.  For instance, water is almost always appropriated (allocated) during the process of development, and if developers also regulate the resource, there is an inevitable tendency to overdevelop with the result that existing users will be severely harmed.  Inconsistencies similarly arise if water supply agencies enforce quality standards; industrial ministries regulate land use; facility owners oversee their safety; and O&M agencies enforce environmental standards.

    A strong data collection, processing and dissemination system is fundamental to all development and management aspects of water resources and is a prerequisite for efficient management.  Similarly, though coordinating bodies may advise government on water matters, rarely is it found that these are supported by permanent policy and planning agencies independent of sectoral bias as should be.  Even if leadership is assigned to a water resources ministry there often is an irrigation, drainage and flood control bias. Therefore  it is appropriate in many circumstances to assign a broader overarching responsibility to the RBM unit that is part of a ministry of water resources.

    With respect to the management of O&M of the range of water services, experience worldwide has shown that measurable water services are best provided by autonomous entities organized as utilities separate from the RBM unit providing a readily defined service for a fee.   These entities can be a national agency, local government unit, user association or private company.  By isolating the service function from other influences, the utility style agency encourages operational efficiency, service accountability and sound financial management together with effective customer participation in the management of such an agency.

Factors to consider

Back to Project Implementation, step 6

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

II. Long-term Planning and Resource Assessment

    All countries prepare national plans by setting out their broad goals and medium-term objectives and policies.  They range from detailed control mechanisms in countries with centrally planned economies, to little more than rolling investment programs in others. The main deficiencies often reside in the lack of long-run regional and basin planning, and in their aggregation into national water plans. As a result, inconsistencies frequently arise in the use and allocation of water and in the development programs of sector agencies.

National and Provincial Planning

    National plans are a country’s strategic vision for managing its resources in the interest of the country as a whole in an environmentally sound and sustainable basis including all facets of the river basin.  Therefore, plans should document the goals,  objectives and current policies to guide water and related land use development and management.  They document the estimated future situation and the projects and programs required to meet the agreed objectives over a time horizon of 50 years.  Shorter term plans of 5, 10 and 25 years provide greater detail including development priorities and are usually built upon basin plans and are updated on a rolling 5 year basis.   Plans at this level also directly reflect legislative authorization and funds availability.

    Ideally, the planning process should: (i) recognize and address society's goals; (ii) identify and deal with important problems and conflicts; (iii) function effectively within prevailing legal and institutional frameworks; (iv) accommodate both short-, and long-range scenarios; (v) generate diverse alternatives; (vi) take into account the allocation of water for all needs, including those of natural systems; (vii) embrace public input as a basic part of the planning; (viiii) be flexible and adaptable; (ix) drive regulatory processes; (x) be the basis for policy making; (xi) foster coordination among planning partners and consistency among related plans; and (xii) produce viable recommendations/options.

    Land use and water use are inseparable.  The inextricability of land and water problems underscores the need for coordinating water resources planning and management with land-use planning and regulation. Policies for land and water management should, therefore, be consistent and coordinated.

Factors to consider

Regional Planning

    Regional planning frames resource development in regional physical terms but should be consistent with national/Provincial planning objectives and policies.  Regional level planning is commonly adopted in managing major urban development; in support of accelerated industrial development and for rural settlement programs.  Regional planning is less widely applied in support of infrastructural investment in already populated rural areas, even though large irrigation programs in particular can transform population patterns and economic activity.  Basin Planning needs to be undertaken in the context of regional plans.

Factors to consider

River Basin Planning

    River basin planning should provide the basis for allocating water (surface and ground water) for all purposes,  controlling water quality and controlling land use in the watershed and verifying compatibility of programs and projects that maintain the integrity of the hydrological cycle.

    Planning should include the development of environmental management plan (EMP) designed to protect and balance the resources in the basin, and to guide future management decisions.

Factors to consider

Back to Project Implementation, step 7.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

Resource Assessment

    Resource assessment is a very fundamental element of the water resources planning process.  Generally this area is one of major weakness and effective planning cannot proceed without a thorough assessment of both surface and ground water resources available. The general inadequacy of information on both land and water resources in many Asian countries stems in part from dispersed responsibilities among many agencies and entities of government.  Systematic data collection in many countries has a low priority compared to construction and development activities.  Not only is there inadequacies in the availability and accuracy of data (notably in relation to groundwater and water quality) but processing and dissemination are poor.  A particular problem in some countries is the restriction of access to data for political reasons.  This applies not only to international rivers but also to interstate rivers where governments similarly restrict access to information.

Factors to consider

Back to Project Implementation, step 5.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

III. Economic and Financial Policy

Financial Requirements

    The need for sound financial planning and budgeting is self-evident.  The utility form discussed above provides a transparent framework for accounting for all income and expenditures and for clarifying the extent and nature of any direct financial subsidies.  Governments almost invariably expect autonomous agencies to cover O&M expenditures, but typically, subsidize capital investment wholly or in part.  Subsidies are much less transparent in line department accounts, particularly since income from water charges often returns to the government's general revenue account.  Moreover, regular government financial procedures provide fewer incentives for efficient financial practices than do those of an autonomous agency.  A particular problem is that few countries in Asia apply consistent cost allocation procedures for multipurpose projects.  As a result, there may be hidden cross-subsidies, in particular where a lead agency constructs a joint facility.  Even if subsidies are given to compensate for distortions in the economy or to meet regional or equity objectives, a first need is to clarify direct costs and provide financial transparency.

Cost Recovery

Funding Capital and Operation and Maintenance Expenditures

Factors to consider

Back to Project Implementation, step 7.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

VI. Environmental and Social Aspects of Water Resources Management

    Countries have built many dams and diversion projects to better manage their water and distribute it to where it is most needed.  As the alternatives to effect this redistribution are considered, it is important that environmental and social issues receive due consideration.  For example, in many places, both natural and man-made lakes as well as  wetlands are slowly being filled with sediment. Fishermen notice shrinking catches, the storage capacity of these waters is reduced, and quality of the waters become degraded.

Environmental factors to consider

 ( Note: Cultural and religious heritage -- needs to be added to the list above)  Social Issues for consideration Back to Project Implementation, step 7.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

V. Formulation, Funding and Implementation of Water Resources Development Programs

    Once the basin institutional and organizational arrangements are settled a general basin plan has been developed,  the process of developing specific programs and or plans for the augmentation,  or conservation to meet projected water demands from all sectors and for natural resources management can begin.  Numerous alternatives will need to be formulated.  It is normal to then narrowed down to a short list of may be 3 - 5 projects using river basin simulation modeling to show the characteristics,  benefits and impact of each.  Costs,  economic analysis,  funding arrangements and implementation schedules should be determined for each alternative.  This section sets out the logical sequence and usual steps followed in the formulation and implementation of programs and is more descriptive in content than other sections of the document.

Impact of the Do Nothing Option

    A “do nothing” scenario should be prepared to summarize the estimated consequences of not meeting the objectives of the proposed project or program.  This should include environmental,  economic,  social and demographic impacts.
    Public meetings should be held and public information released to give the general public and stakeholders the opportunity to review and express preference among the alternatives and suggest minor modifications that will strengthen an alternative.  This will allow the agency to gain insight as to the potential issues and problems from the  public’s perspective.

Consideration of Alternatives

    The next step is to submit summary reports on each alternative for higher level review and decision making.  The most suitable alternative(s) can then move to the design phase.  Under this phase the following is typical:

Financial Arrangements and Project Funding

    The next stage is to consider the financial arrangements and project funding.  This  assessment should include:

Finalization of Environmental and Social Assessment and other Clearance

    During this stage the following should be considered:

    A detailed implementation schedule should be prepared at this stage.

Back to Project Implementation, step 8.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

Selection of Best Alternative and Final Detailed Design

The following at should be considered at this stage:

Assuming successful clearance,  project works will commence under the responsibility of the constructing authority.  Depending on the size and complexity  of the project,  some activities may be placed under central agencies while others will be the responsibility of the river basin agency.

Program Implementation

    Project implementation is the next phase and the key issues are:

Back to Project Implementation, step 9.

Geoff Spencer, River Basin Development and Management: Key Elements (1997). The World Bank

VI. Real-Time Management and Operation and Management


    In many parts of the world, projects that are implemented,  assume that facilities will be operated and maintained to provide designed level of service or performance over time.  In practice, however, services may differ from those intended, and expected benefits are not always attained.  Failure to give adequate priority to O&M is a pervasive problem increasingly recognized over recent years.  However, many of the most intractable problems date from initial design and construction. Plans of Operation and Maintenance (POMs) often neither account for the impact of external factors on system performance nor provide detailed guidance.  Poor construction quality is common and reflects a failure to adopt proven construction management practices.  Proper POMs need to be developed as part of project implementation. Appropriate technology should be employed that allows continuous monitoring of systems performance and both for surface and ground water.

Basin Operations and Maintenance

    Basin operations are normally the key to effective project operations.  Many basins are now developed to levels that make formal operating plans of critical importance. With few exceptions real-time basin operations are poorly coordinated, in particular for interstate river systems.  This also extends to  major concerns associated with flooding for which forecasting and preparedness measures are generally inadequate.  Maintenance responsibility for assets assigned to the RBM unit should remain with the unit.  Communication networks and information sharing can often be a key element in integrating and improving the efficiency of the bulk water supply system.

Project Operations and Maintenance

    Generally,  for schemes and projects such as irrigation,  large urban,  flood control and drainage schemes within basins, there is a lack of service-orientation which is then linked to operations.  Rights and obligations are often not clearly formulated.  Approaches have evolved in individual sectors with rules and regulations elaborated in general O&M manuals.  Irrigation rules have a long history. Operating procedures in other sectors are generally more standardized and straightforward, though there are frequent deficiencies in implementation.  Real-time surface water management is normally more effective if storage facilities are provided, though single-purpose reservoir systems are often operated according to fairly narrow operating rules.  These may be a pragmatic response to past experience and perform well under normal conditions.  But they are less suited to extremes of drought and flood and often fail to make optimum use of regulating capacity and fail to complement other basin needs.

    Irrigation management frequently raises particular issues, given the large size of many schemes, the inadequacy of O&M funding and low staff morale. External factors are crucial.  Regulation is relatively easy if demands are predictable, supply is reliable, control is localized and natural drainage is good.  It is much more difficult if demands are uncertain, supplies unpredictable, control is centralized and drainage is impeded.  If failure to anticipate O&M problems is added to the list of adverse external factors, it is not surprising that effective management of large public irrigation systems often proves elusive.  A wide range of institutional, administrative and technical reforms are needed in most instances to improve real-time irrigation management.  Maintenance of other types of public water related facilities is also often problematic.  It is commonly under funded, and concerned agencies give it low priority.  If routine maintenance is inadequate, facilities deteriorate and full rehabilitation may become necessary.  Maintenance schedules and budgets rarely provide for the "replacement" category.  And finally, planning for emergencies is another area of particular weakness.

    Management plans need to include effective monitoring of all programs including natural resources management programs.  This effectiveness is directly related to the acquisition,  storage and dissemination of data.  The importance of timely and accurate data as the basis for good management cannot be over emphasized.
Regulatory and Demand Management

    A range of regulatory and demand management measures and programs complement  real-time operations and maintenance at the basin and scheme levels.  With regard to the regulatory aspects, the effective and continuous administration of systems of water rights and allocations, land-use zoning, quality standards, structural safety and the administrative and financial integrity of service entities, are among critical aspects to be addressed.  These issues are integral to the institutional issues discussed above.

Factors to consider

Back to Project Implementation, step 9.

 For further information, or a complete copy of this paper, please contact Geoff Spencer.