26 May 2016

Planning and implementing new water policies

I wrote this in a now-discarded draft report, but I think it is worth sharing for its outline of the steps necessary for implementing a (water) policy.

Necessary -- but not sufficient -- conditions for success
The implementation of a new regulatory and economic instrument (REI) requires a plan (or road map), which will suggest necessary preconditions. These preconditions do not guarantee success, so it is useful to test REIs via pilot projects, to see if they are compatible with local conditions.

  • Inputs: Natural resources, labor, etc. that are combined to produce outputs.
  • Outputs: These include market and non-market goods, e.g., everything from food to industrial outputs to water flows of targeted quality, quantity and location.
  • Outcomes: The value of outputs to citizens in terms of their quality of life.
  • Road Map: A plan to move from current to targeted conditions.
This stage focusses on translating inputs into targets (outputs and outcomes), which can be reached by following a road map. The actual transformation of inputs to outputs (and thus outcomes) will depend on local conditions as well as resolving potential conflicts among goals.

The lack of one or more necessary preconditions will impede progress, thereby wasting effort, resources and support for the REI. The expression "pushing on a string'" captures this sense of useless action. All of the following preconditions are necessary for adequate operation of REIs affecting irrigation, drinking water, hydropower, etc. These preconditions are present in countries with functioning, reliable water systems (examples: DE, NL, SG, UK). They are weak or missing in countries with failing water systems.
  • Laws must enable typical utility operations (e.g., allowing service disconnection for non-payment) as well as protect water quality (regulations against pollution, laws against pollution, etc.)
  • Water associations need personnel who are qualified for the work, paid normal salaries (to resist bribery), and rewarded/punished for success/failure. Government needs similarly qualified personnel to write and enforce laws and regulations.
  • Data on water supplies, transport, withdrawals and return flows will make it easier to understand water quantities. Water quality data are required to enforce regulations on pollution (waste water) and treatment (drinking water).
  • Different technologies can be used for legacy systems, large scale infrastructure, smaller/community scale infrastructure and even "green" infrastructure. All options should be considered for each situation, depending on funding levels, personnel, desired outcomes, etc.
  • The OECD suggest that water services can be funded via tariffs, taxes (local or national), and/or transfers (from international sources). Tariffs help water providers provide better service, but customers in poor countries may need income support. Taxes and transfers tend to distract water managers from serving customers, but they can fill funding gaps.
  • Customers and citizens need to understand new REIs before they will support implementation. Outreach always improves efficiency, but its importance rises when money is tight, as (a) there is less room for mistakes or extra projects and (b) support makes it easier to get "more bang for the buck."
Bottom Line: Every journey needs a destination, but successful journeys need adequate planning, personnel and institutions.


  1. Dear David I think that something is missing in your proposition for the REI, I Think that transparency and participation they are very important to achieve REI, I think that you have to go further than just understand and pay.
    We need social control on water use, consuption and management.

    1. Actually, no. The entire purpose of "economic" instruments is to AVOID social controls, i.e., help people make better decisions without specifying what those decisions are.

    2. This I agree with you.
      But I think we must have a social control of "economic" instruments, it is, in my opinion, the to achieve sustainability


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