Colombia- Legal & institutional frameworks in Colombia & their impact on multiple use water systems

Colombia- Legal & institutional frameworks in Colombia & their impact on multiple use water systems

TitleColombia- Legal & institutional frameworks in Colombia & their impact on multiple use water systems
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of PublicationSubmitted

This institutional analysis of the rural water sector in Colombia analyses obstacles and opportunities to implement multiple-use water services in laws, policies and regulations, and in institutions at national, departmental, municipal and basin levels.

Full Text

Outside the major towns where private operators are involved in service delivery, rural domestic water supplies in Colombia are, in the main, operated and managed by community based organizations. Users pay water charges according to tariffs that aim to cover these ongoing costs. Most capital investment comes from the state, which has a responsibility to ensure delivery of efficient public services, and this is largely channeled via local government (departments and municipalities) according to a set formula to construct new systems and upgrade old ones. An element of these funds is ring-fenced for water and sanitation until certain coverage and service delivery targets are met. In Valle del Cauca there are also cross organizational programmes (notably the PAAR programme for rural water supply) that invest further in infrastructure development including some investment derived from private water and sanitation operators and environmental authorities.

In a few areas, there is support to assist community-based organizations in sustaining their water systems through training, sharing of experiences and information, and advice in various aspects of management such as legal and financial issues (e.g. Aquacol, Cinara). However, generally these support services are not adequately catered for by government and most investment is in physical infrastructure rather than capacity building. The state also has a regulatory role in water supply. There are set tariff models and water quality standards for example, that are monitored from time to time. Despite a high level of decentralisation in responsibility for the operation and maintenance of systems and a trend towards more community participation in project design, most programmes follow fairly rigid guidelines responding to nationally set norms and standards. These define for the example the volume and quality of water to be supplied. There is little difference in the way that schemes are designed from place to place, despite large differences in the nature and demand of different communities.

The rules of operation in the country for the domestic water sector, upon which this paper focuses, are set out in a large number of constitutions, laws and policies. In comparison there are relatively few organizations and instruments relating to the irrigation sector. There are also many different organizations involved in various aspects of domestic water supply. Each has clearly defined responsibilities which makes coordination and integrated approaches to development and management very difficult. At the national level key agencies include for example, the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Spatial Development, the Ministry of Social Security, the National Directorate of Planning, Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Key regulators are also located at this level including the Regulatory Commission of Water Supply and Sanitation, and the Superintendent of Household Public Services.

At the intermediate level, key organizations include departamentos, a main level of local government, autonomous regional corporations that are environmental authorities, and health secretaries involved in monitoring as well as investment in water and sanitation programmes. At the local level, municipalities have a main role in service delivery through investment in infrastructure and helping and supporting local community organizations to run systems. They also provide agricultural extension and health programmes amongst other activities, although municipalities are often constrained by a lack of funds and capacity. Empresas Prestadoras de Servicios Públicos cover a range of types of organization that provide water and sanitation services from private to community-based organizations. Associations of irrigators are community-based organizations that manage irrigation systems.

The domestic water sector in Colombia is, arguably, urban-focused and does not respond well to the needs of rural communities. Most rural communities require a water supply to meet their basic domestic needs that include small-scale productive uses of water at the household level, such as small plots of crops, raising livestock and processing products such as coffee. However these needs fall in the gaps between the sectorally - defined institutions and their policies. Domestic water supplies are not officially developed to satisfy small-scale productive uses. Basic or domestic needs are not clearly defined in regulations but are commonly understood to be restricted to human consumption meaning drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing and sanitation. Irrigation and livestock needs are other categories of water use, that are not supposed to be supplied from domestic systems. However, in practice, and facilitated by the relatively large volumes of water (100-150 lpcd) that are supplied, many domestic systems do support such productive uses. However, this happens in an unplanned and unregulated way because it is not recognized within the legal and policy framework. This leads to problems in many systems such as failure to supply tail-end households, a lack of continuity in supply and conflicts between users.

A unique feature of the water supply situation in the coffee growing regions of Colombia are the piped water supply systems that are developed by the comité de cafeteros (which has national, intermediate and local branches) partly to provide water that is needed for coffee processing several times a year, but also because of their social responsibility to improve rural infrastructure, services and standards of living. The comité de cafeteros also operate some of these systems, which are often the only system for domestic water supply. Officially, however, because of their partial use for coffee processing, these systems are classified as industrial systems and are not developed according to the guidelines for domestic water supplies. Through the PAAR programme in Valle de Cauca, a part of the comité de cafeteros are even expanding to support implementation of water and sanitation system development outside the coffee growing areas drawing upon their general experiences in developing rural services.

This paper concludes that the definition of domestic or basic needs in rural areas need to include an element to meet small-scale productive uses in order to be able to support better food security and the livelihoods of rural families. This requires changes in the approaches followed by several organizations at different levels, and such change is being promoted through a learning alliance that aims to develop cross-organization linkages and find practice ways to support delivery of multiple use water services.

You can find the full report (in Spanish) here