Regulatory bodies and enforcement agencies (B1.01)


Regulatory and enforcement bodies have an extremely important role in ensuring that IWRM principles are adequately translated into codes of practice which are to be fully respected. Their specific functions are determined by laws and government policy on water resources management policies (A1). These bodies also tend to have the power to subcontract specific activities related to water management (e.g. monitoring and sampling) to specialized organisations, including private companies. It is important to establish clear agreements outlining the roles and responsibilities of each party when subcontracting happens. It is important that they can act without day-to-day political influence.

The focus of regulation for water resources management revolves around the following areas:

  1. Aligning major users, municipal, industrial, agricultural and hydropower, interests with the governments’ interests in protecting and sustaining water resources and other public interest considerations. This necessitates development of regulatory instruments to control and command industry and other user actions. This will lead to development of drinking water quality standards, controls over land use and development within catchments and flood plains, controls over the quantity and timing of private water abstractions, and controls over the quantity, quality and timing of waste discharges into the water environment. For example, over abstraction by firms will lead to reduction in water sources necessitating government action to regulate through abstraction licenses.
  2. Regulations are necessary to preserve water quality which is affected by human and industry activities. Prohibitions, permits, licenses or authorizations, discharge standards, environmental quality standards, defining technical specifications, delimiting protection areas are some of the methods used to achieve raw water quality. On the other hand, water quality also refers to drinking water quality to be provided to citizens. Within this context, regulations will be needed to define and maintain safe drinking water to preserve wholesomeness of water that is to be provided by drinking water utilities. It is highly desirable to institute catchment protection measures to safeguard sources of drinking water, to reduce treatment costs.
  3. Land-use planning is vital for safeguarding environmentally vulnerable areas, such as wetlands and riverine ecosystems. For this purpose, zoning, building permits and specific soil protection and erosion control measures etc. are developed. Again, legislation regulating human impacts on freshwater-related fauna and flora can use a variety of means that may be combined depending on the type of activity regulated. Restrictions on application of manures, pesticides, restrictions on harvesting methods, endangered species protection, habitat protection, and regulation against invasive species, etc. are some for the methods used to conserve aquatic ecosystems.
  4. Government action might be required to protect consumers from high water prices by regulating the same as water utilities are monopolies with large exploitative power (for a discussion on water service providers, see Tools B2). Government might provide direct subsidies to low income users to compensate higher actual water prices. In the same way, the quality of drinking water to be supplied should be regulated as water services utilities may deviate from their obligations and supply low quality drinking water. This has to be defined in the provision regulating supply standards. Whilst legislation may use general terms such as “wholesome”, it is important to have technical standards to support such terms.

Capacity in regulatory and enforcement bodies varies widely from region to region and stress on capacity building and support is essential. The legitimacy of the regulatory body is critical in ensuring compliance. Regulation and enforcement bodies should work hand in hand with local stakeholders as to develop and implement policies that are aligned with people’s social and economic needs – though always taking into consideration environmental concerns. Experience shows that genuine consultation helps the legitimacy of the regulatory and enforcement bodies.

Lessons learned

Important priorities for enforcement and regulatory agencies include:

  • Sufficient staff of adequate capability to enforce regulations (enforcement agencies) and take appropriate measures about water management needs (regulatory bodies).
  • Statutes which are practical, enforceable and are based on accurate knowledge of resource management and environmental impacts (A2).
  • Staff need to be knowledgeable about good management practices and have appropriate scientific knowledge in water resources management.
  • Adequate financial resources to support the staff and operations, and transparency in financial management, to minimise regulatory capture.
  • Selecting meaningful indicators for technical, economic and social issues and appropriate benchmarks for assessment (C1; C2).
  • Enforcement and regulatory agencies have to be free from political and economic interference so that their actions are not biased in any specific direction.