Basin organisations (B3.04)


The term “basin organisation” refers to any formal or informal entity that manages water resources at the basin scale. Their mandate is to take a big picture perspective and be the leading voice on basin-wide water issues. This means keeping basin constituencies and decision makers in all sectors and at all levels, in both the public and private sector, fully informed and involved. The focus here is the basin organisations that are domestic, not transcending state boundaries (see B3.01 for transboundary organisations in water resource management).

Basin organisations are set up under different arrangements depending on the aim, the legal and administrative systems, and human and financial resources. They are usually, but not always, formal legal bodies. In some cases, less formal arrangements also work. But, whatever the setup, basin organisations must be public/collective organisations because water resources management is a public good. Although formal basin organisations are part of the public sector, for water to be managed effectively, a wide range of stakeholders, community groups, economical sectors, non-governmental organisations and private enterprise, need to be involved.

Basin organisations have functions that can stretch in three main directions:

  • Monitoring, investigating, co-ordinating and regulating – involves collecting and managing data regarding water quantity and availability; prevent water pollution; harmonize actions taken by state and non-state actors; and resolve conflict in the case of litigation.
  • Planning and financing – implies to allocate water to users based on respective needs; formulate medium- to long-term plans for water resources management in the basin; and mobilise financial resources, for example, by collecting water user fees or water taxes.
  • Developing and managing – means designing and constructing water facilities; maintaining the water infrastructure; and operating them in ways to ensure water distribution and navigation amongst different functions of water.

Varying opinions exist about the most effective scale of application: the success of a basin organisation may depend on things such as the level of human and institutional capacity of the civil society, the degree to which water resources are developed, and climatic variability (arid versus temperate river basins, for example). Also, since basin organizations are not bound to the regular administrative borders (such as the differences between provinces or counties) it makes it sometimes difficult to communicate with several local administrative authorities. In some ways, the fact that basin organisations are not limited to administrative borders represents both their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it is the policy and legislative framework that governs the purpose, and even more so the effectiveness, of the basin organisation.

Lessons learned

Experience shows that all basin organisations evolve with time. They see their composition and duties adapted from time to time reflecting the real needs of the moment, thus allowing for flexible coordination and management.

Successful basin organisations are supported by:

  • An ability to establish trusted technical competencies;
  • A focus on serious recurrent problems such as flooding or drought or supply shortages, and the provision of solutions acceptable to all stakeholders;
  • A broad stakeholder involvement, catering for grassroots participation at a basin-wide level (e.g. through water forums);
  • An ability to generate some form of sustaining revenue by collecting fees and/or attracting grants and loans;
  • Clear jurisdictional boundaries and appropriate powers ensuring that basin organisation can establish good communication with the various administrative authorities.