Water Governance

GS 3 Environment Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


           Water governance refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence water’s use and management.

Every place and every community have their unique problems associated with water,

  • Scarce water resource is to be allocated,
  • Generate livelihood in the food-energy nexus,
  • To keep the order of the biosphere balanced.

Key aspects of water governance:

  • The key aspects of an effective system of water governance in a country includes a comprehensive policy followed by an Action Plan to formulate the policy.
  • Emphasize on the importance of resource literacy on water
    • building institutions in line with framed policies.
  • The top-down approach and definition of ‘per capita availability’ to be rechecked and substituted
    • with a bottom-up approach and relevant definitions
    • a more localized treatment of governing water.

Lacunas present in water governance to be addressed:

  • Problem:
    • Lack of reliable information and doctored data aided by the conflict of interest among governing bodies like the Central Water Commission (CWC), Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), the regulators, the financial agencies.
  • Solution:
    • Suggestion is to bring transparency and bridge the information gap,
      • by putting data into public domain right away.
      • Localised storage options,
      • flood management,
      • optimal use of reservoirs,
      • river management – its flow,
      • pollution and biodiversity,
      • catchment management via enhancing water recharge,
      • studying the flow of sediments.
    • Management of agriculture
      • regulation of water-intensive crops and cropping pattern,
      • regulations for groundwater consumption.
    • An Urban Water Policy focusing on
      • Water Smart cities,
      • corruption-free,quality and pollution management
      • a check on climate change induced by anthropogenic activities.

Water Governance implementation challenges:

These governance challenges can affect the implementation of the SDG water-related targets. For example :

Drinking water and sanitation (targets 6.1 and 6.2):

  • The lack of capacity, in particular at sub-national levels, represent an important obstacle to meeting current and future demands.
  • The World population will grow to around 9 billion by 2050,
    • increasing proportion living in urban areas.
  • These socio-economic and demographic trends raise important challenges for countries and cities
    • to mobilise the infrastructure, expertise and competent staff necessary.
  • Knowledge and know-how may be needed
    • to develop innovative approaches
  • Insufficient or inadequate funding can also be an important challenge.
    • countries will be expected to mobilise substantial financial resources
    • to build and maintain new networks, replace and modernise existing water infrastructures
    • ensure the performance of service provision.

Water resources management (targets 6.4 and 6.5):

  • The mismatch between administrative limits and hydrological boundaries can lead to local actors
    • e.g. municipalities
    • placing their own interests ahead when designing and implementing policies and strategies
    • rather than integrating the needs of the river basin and aquifers.
  • Managing water resources efficiently
    • can be hindered by diverging interests
      • between urban and rural areas
      • between up-stream and downstream regions.
    • This can hinder the water-use efficiency across sectors,
      • prevent the adoption of convergent objectives for sustainable withdrawals,
      • supply of freshwater to address water scarcity.

Water quality and wastewater treatment (target 6.3):

  • Ensuring good quality level for water requires collective and co-ordinated actions across actors and sectors.
  • Particularly sensitive to sectoral fragmentation, which can hinder collective efforts to reduce pollution.
    • Eliminating dumping,
    • minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials,
    • halving the proportion of untreated wastewater,
    • increasing recycling and safe reuse.
  • Meeting water quality targets can be hampered by limited enforcement.
  • A lack of accountability and transparency in complying with existing standards for quality and wastewater treatment,
    • in particular when governments do not have the capacity to monitor their performance
    • civil society is not fully engaged to hold them accountable.

Risk management related to disasters and climate change (target 6.6):

  • Inadequate information production and sharing for what concerns meteorological and hydrological data is an important obstacle
    • to managing the risks related to extreme event and global warming.
  • Countries deal with data scattered across various sources (scientific, institutional, etc.)
    • which hamper a common understanding of the risks and exposure to natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
  • Results in the absence of a common frame of reference
    • regarding safety measures and levels of risks
    • different levels of knowledge and awareness across actors.

Articulating the best practices of water governance:

  • An example of a World Bank project in Andhra Pradesh
    • where they educated and equipped the local community
    • to understand their water budget
    • how the water levels have been changing,
    • what should be the appropriate cropping patterns.
  • A ‘River Parliament’ in a village in India wherein the locals came to meet once a while to discuss water management.
  • Durgashakti Nagpal’s (IAS) view and experience as a civil servant on water governance highlights the communities affected by water insecurity and are at the frontlines of vulnerability.
  • There is a need for a ward level committee to educate the citizens about
    • the source of water,
    • the importance of conservation,
    • their role in the management and governance.
  • While emphasizing dams, experts criticized that
    • 5000 dams were being constructed across India
    • without civil consent and opinion,
    • which has only done more harm than good, especially to the vulnerable groups.
  • There is a need for post facto assessment;
    • the capacity to learn lessons and change.
  • An example of how NDMA should have an ‘independent credible assessment’ as to
    • what happened and who should be accountable of and the shortcomings
      • that made the disaster turn into a calamity.
  • Highlighted that official buildings should first equip themselves with a rain harvesting system
    • before making it mandatory for private institutions and facilities.
  • On the untreated sewage, advocated for the formulation of a decentralized system of sewage management in the urban localities and a transparent committee
    • that will monitor and evaluate the progress.

Way Forward

  • Diagnosing these governance challenges in each water-related area and the extent to which they affect the capacity of countries to achieve the water goal will be a critical step in the SDG implementation process.
  • Urban agriculture can benefit from treating grey water,
    • thus creating a social responsibility scheme of ‘water responsibility’ in CSR lines
    • for the industries who generate toxic effluents.
  • A range of tools can provide guidance to move away from silo vision
    • to create a new scenario for development and sustainability in the water sector.


           There needs to be a National Urban Water Policy that will fit and come under the ambit of another comprehensive National Water Policy.

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