Chile: Integrated strategy for the recovery of water resources of Talcahuano (#288)

The Municipality of Talcahuano because of rapid urbanisation is subjected to natural resource degradation. Action was taken and a municipal strategy was created, assigning the municipality as the institution in charge of administering and combating natural resource degradation. This case illustrates the appropriateness of the municipal level of government in successfully addressing the recovery of water resources and environmental management. 


The Municipality of Talcahuano, due to its geographic location, natural conditions and closeness to energy supply centres, such as coal from Lota and Coronel, had from the 50´s an important economic growth, a greater military presence, and an increased port capacity; all this led to an accelerated urban growth.

The co-existence of active urban and industrial areas in an uneven territory, with abundant water bodies and a surface area of only 142.8 km2, have made the city specially sensitive to natural resource degradation.

The situation was made critical and gave rise to the municipal strategy started in 1993. This situation was being aggravated by the chronic scarcity of resources in the Municipality and the lack of infrastructure and control mechanisms faced with environmental deterioration. 

The Municipality, as the institution in charge of administering this serious environmental deterioration that affected the quality of life of its inhabitants, in co-ordination with other public, private and community organisations, manifest their outmost commitment and concern for decreasing water contamination.

A program to appropriately zone the city in order to harmonise the different activities was implemented.

Lessons learned

Thus the case is a good example of the application of an IWRM approach, within the possibilities of a local level government having modest resources, in terms of a) its concern regarding the equitable and sustainable use of the resource, by different social and productive sectors, b) with a long range vision, c) with accountability, making the agents of contamination responsible for their mitigation and d) with a notable and permanent capacity for the participation of all interested parties and agents in the use and management decisions of the resource. 

The experience analysed indicates that Municipalities may achieve this by exercising efficient and informed conduction and which employs a strategy capable of combining interests and negotiating efficient associations with the community, private companies and national and regional government. 

It is very important to disseminate this case in Latin America, as the capacity demonstrated by the Talcahuano Municipality in obtaining the co-operation of national and regional governments, that of the private sector, and the ability to manage funds and resources additional to those of the squalid municipal budget proved fundamental, as all local governments in the continent manifest an incapacity to answer to the demands of their own communities with their on local budgets. 

Importance of the case for IWRM

The case demonstrated the appropriateness of the Municipal level of government in successfully addressing the recovery of water resources and environmental management, even under apparently insurmountable circumstances of inequality in facing powerful contaminating agents, as was the case in Talcahuano.

Photo credit: The World Bank