Panamá: IWRM Planning Experiences at Municipal Level in Indio River Basin (#451)

River Indio’s watershed is the source of water supply for the growing demand in the metropolitan area of Panamá. However, due to extensive human activity and mismanagement the area has been affected by extensive deterioration. Action has been taken to reinforce natural resources restoration and water resources conservation, grounded in government strenthening and integrated management. Important lessons can be drawn from this in terms of IWRM, as it sets a clear example of active participation of the communities and the local authorities.


River Indio’s watershed is the source of water supply for the growing demand in the metropolitan area of Panamá. The watershed covers an area of 571 km2. The predominant climate in the area is tropical and humid with high precipitation. Due to extensive human activity, namely deforestation, the primary vegetation has been eliminated. Consequently, habitats have been destroyed which affects the mammal diversity in the sub-basin. In general, there is a low concern for natural resources management in the basin. 
Additionally, livestock breeding has intensified which results in conflicts over land use and deforestation of forests that serve as shelter for water sources. As a result, many rural aqueducts have been depleted. The principal problems in the River Indio’s basin are:

  • Fecal and solid waste contamination in water bodies and natural surroundings.
  • Limited drinking water quality and quantity and water sources devoid of vegetation.
  • Organizational weaknesses at communal level and insufficient maintenance of rural aqueducts.

Action taken

  • In 2008, Charges municipality decided to coordinate an Integrated Water Management Plan with an initial three year horizon, aiming to lessen risks triggered by the environmental degradation and to improve user’s life quality. The main objectives were:
    Risk and water resources integrated management.
  • Actions for natural resources conservation.
  • Strengthening of governments and local organizations for the implementation of the Integrated Water Management Plan (2008-2020) and the sustainable development in the basin.
  • Develop infrastructure to improve water systems.
  • Awareness-raising about water to achieve a better attitude of communities towards the natural environment.

One of the most important activities was the management and maintenance of forests in the sub-basin to conserve and protect the hydrological regime. More so, four water protected zones with a total area of 521.7 ha were established. A hydrological corridor was also delineated ensuring the connectivity of water resources while guaranteeing the conservation of ecosystems to support the proliferation of wildlife. This contributed to improving the quality and quantity of water, reverse the fragmentation of ecosystems and protect groundwater recharge areas. In addition, workshops that encouraged participatory processes, analysis and self-reflection were conducted in order to encourage participants’ commitment to initiate and implement procedures of community organizations.

Results and lessorns learned: 

  • Improved water quality and quantity benefit over 1350 inhabitants. A user network that strengthens community organizations was formed. It holds both, a Strategic Plan and an Action Plan.
  • This initiative’s success prompted other communities to organize themselves and develop similar actions to resolve water issues.
  • Training and awareness are imperative as tools for processes which are intended to create environmental and water culture. These tools encourage communities to have a sense of belonging and commitment to conservation.