Nicaragua: Management plan for the Cocibolca Great Lake (#325)

The San Juan River waters have experienced deterioration due to poor management of its basin. To address the issues, action has been taken to implement IWRM to address the areas of water, soil, forests and municipal development in a cross-sectoral manner.  This case study is a good reminder of the integrated nature of IWRM, and the importance of a model that accounts for management of both water and land.


Despite the dramatic economic changes in the last years, the Cocibolca Great Lake has maintained its average volume level since the late 19th century, without discounting the permanent discharge of its waters by the San Juan River. Nevertheless, both the ecosystem and the quality of its waters have experienced progressive deterioration due to the lack of management of its basin. 

This is evident through soil erosion, pollution due to wastewaters of neighbouring populations, local industrial effluents, irrational application of agrochemical products for neighbouring crops (rice, sugarcane, banana, livestock, etc.), not to mention the unloading of varied polluting elements carried by the tributaries in its river basin.

The Commission for Sustainable Development of the Lago Cocibolca and the San Juan River Basins, in accordance with the Water Law and the National Policy of Water Resources, has as its main responsibility to elaborate and approve the Action and Territorial Ordering Plan for the Management of the Cocibolca Lake basin. Also, the Commission is responsible for implementing such plan.

Action taken

In order to formulate the Management Plan for Lago Cocibolca, a technical and administrative model is required for the management of water, soil, forests and municipal development at the lake basin level as the unit of territorial management. According to the Water Law, this area is declared as the “national potable water reserve”, thus it is of the country highest interest and priority of national security. 

The agreement on actions by central government authorities and municipal governments, private producer associations, NGOs, and the conciliation of interests for the use of water and soil, clearly are only be possible through the IWRM approaches that bring together natural, political and administrative systems in the territory. The Centre for Research in Water Resources is in charge to facilitate the process with a support of the government.

Lessons learned

This case illustrates the process of construction of the model for its elaboration and the application of IWRM criteria in the organization of the Management Plan.

Importance of the case for IWRM

The formulation of a comprehensive and integrated management plan with the preserve the natural water resource is an extremely time and effort consuming process. It also requires development of the model that takes into account both management of water resources and urban and land development in the area.