Integrated water resources management (IWRM)

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is the management system based on consideration of all kinds of water resources (surface water, groundwater, and return water) within hydrological units that coordinates the interests of different economic sectors and hierarchical levels of water use, involves all stakeholders into decision-making, and promotes efficient use of water, land and other natural resources to meet the requirements of ecosystems and human society through a sustainable water supply.

IWRM is based on the following key principles that define its practical backbone:

  • Water resources management is implemented within the hydrological units in concordance with geomorphology of the drainage basin under consideration;
  • Management takes into consideration assessment and use of all kinds of water resources (surface water, ground water, and return water) and the climatic features of the regions;
  • Close co-ordination of all kinds of water users and organizations involved into water resources management, including cross-sectoral (horizontal) co-ordination and co-ordination of hierarchical levels of water governance (basin, sub-basin, irrigation system, WUA, and farm as the end user);
  • Public participation not only in the water management process, but also in financing, planning, maintaining and developing water infrastructure;
  • Setting the priorities of eco-systems’ water requirements into the practice of water management organization;
  • Participation of water management organizations and water users in activity related to water saving and control of unproductive water losses; water demand control along with resources management;
  • Information exchange, openness and transparency of the water resources management system; and
  • Economic and financial sustainability of water management organizations;

IWRM may be considered as the complete system when all the above-mentioned elements and principles are put into practice, although forms and methods of introduction can differ. Partial introduction of some principles, for example, the basin method or participatory approach, cannot be the basis for statement and recognizing of the fact that IWRM is the complete system.

Water resources management is the art of delivering water in required quantity and quality to specific place and in time, while efficiently using technological resources and other inputs for provision of and payment for water services. Hence, integrated water resources management can be determined as the management system that is based on consideration of every possible water source, coordination of intersectoral interests and all levels of water use hierarchy, hydro-geographical approach, wider involvement of all water users, and efficient water use, while ensuring environmental security and sustainable water supply for human society and the nature.

For implementation of the IWRM concept, the current institutional structure of water management should be re-organized and a new regulation system should be introduced in the water management sector. In other words, it is necessary to clearly formulate – who, how, at what costs and on what conditions will provide services to water users (including the nature), while simultaneously improving productivity of water used.

What can be achieved from implementation of integrated management as compared to the current system of management:

Shortcomings of existing water management system

Achievements from implementation of integrated water management

Fragmented management bodies, without inter-sectoral coordination

Mechanism of inter-sectoral coordination in place (through the establishment of water councils)

Management within administrative boundaries (parochial interests prevailing in water use)

Management within hydrological units (guarantee of stable and equitable water supply irrespective of place of use)

Substantial organizational water losses due to lack of coordination between different levels of water hierarchy

Minimized organizational water losses through efficient coordination between all levels of water hierarchy

Frequent disagreement between policy, law and management

Integration between policy, law and management

Strict procedures imposed from upper level

Flexible law responding to dynamically changing conditions (democratization and transfer to market relations)

Bureaucratic multilevel structure with insufficient financing from central organization

Primarily self-financed, with partial state subsidies for development

Vague actual financial costs of water services

Planning tools and charges on the basis of actually incurred costs of management

Lack of relation between provision of services and payment for services

Implementation of the principle “payment for the service”. Service cost recovery mechanism

No water saving (water productivity improvement) incentives

Understanding by all members of community that water is a finite resource. Incentives for improved water productivity and water saving are in place.

Indefinite actual water inputs due to poor hydrometry

Better hydrometry. Clear water recording and measuring

Non-participatory decision making

Participatory decision making, public consultations

No accountability before service users (water consumers)

Participatory management, contract-based provision of services

Disconnection of water users and their poor (legal and economic) knowledge

Water user associations as legal persons, with definite rights and responsibilities

Maintenance of state order system and fixed purchase prices of major crops

Farmers themselves select cropping patterns based on market demand; market-regulated prices

Non-consideration of environmental problems

Environmental protection and water allocation for the nature

Lack of unified record-keeping of surface water and groundwater use, as well as of return water utilization.

Unified planning of surface water and groundwater use, together with return water utilization.

Author: Mirzaev N.N., SIC ICWC

IWRM is a process which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems (Global Water Partnership, Technical Advisory Committee, 2000).