OECD Studies on Water

2224-5081 (online)
2224-5073 (print)
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Water is essential for economic growth, human health, and the environment. Yet governments around the world face significant challenges in managing their water resources effectively. The problems are multiple and complex: billions of people are still without access to safe water and adequate sanitation; competition for water is increasing among the different uses and users; and major investment is required to maintain and improve water infrastructure in OECD and non-OECD countries. This OECD series on water provides policy analysis and guidance on the economic, financial and governance aspects of water resources management. These aspects generally lie at the heart of the water problem and hold the key to unlocking the policy puzzle.

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Water Resources Allocation

Water Resources Allocation

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13 Apr 2015
9789264234062 (EPUB) ; 9789264229631 (PDF) ;9789264229624(print)

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Water resources allocation determines who is able to use water resources, how, when and where. It directly affects the value (economic, ecological, socio-cultural) that individuals and society obtain from water resources. This report overviews how allocation works in a range of countries and how the performance of allocation arrangements can be improved to adjust to changing conditions.

Capturing information from 27 OECD countries and key partner economies, the report presents key findings from the OECD Survey of Water Resources Allocation and case studies of successful allocation reform. It provides practical policy guidance for water allocation in the form of a "health check", which can be used to assess the performance of current arrangements and manage the transition to improved regimes.

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  • Foreword

    The intensifying competition for water resources is widely documented. The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 highlights that water resources are already over-used or over-allocated in many places, with global demand expected to increase by 55% between 2000 and mid-century. The situation is compounded by climate change, with impacts on water expected to become more pronounced in the coming decades. These pressures have already made water allocation an urgent issue in a number of countries and one that is rising on the agenda in many others. Within this context, the OECD undertook work on water resources allocation to strengthen the evidence base and develop policy guidance to improve the design of allocation regimes and manage the challenges of reform.

  • Preface

    Competition to access water resources is increasing as a result of population growth, economic development and climate change. As such competition intensifies, the issue of how governments allocate water between uses and users is rising on the policy agenda. International best practice shows that well-designed water allocation regimes help allocate water to where it creates the most value (economic, ecological, or socio-cultural) for society. They can adjust to changing conditions and preferences at least cost for society and can provide incentives for investment in water use efficiency and innovation.

  • Acronyms
  • Executive summary

    Water resources allocation determines who is able to use water resources, how, when and where. Findings from a recent OECD survey of the current allocation landscape across 27 OECD and key partner countries, a first of its kind, reveal that most allocation regimes have elements that can encourage a robust system, but operate with significant limitations. Most allocation regimes today are strongly conditioned by historical preferences and usage patterns, tracing their roots to previous decades or even centuries. They have often evolved in a piecemeal fashion over time and exhibit a high degree of path dependency, which manifests in laws and policies, and even in the design and operational rules of long-lived water infrastructures. This means that water use is often locked-in to uses that are no longer as valuable today as they were decades ago, curtailing the value (ecological, socio-cultural, or economic) that individuals and society obtain from water.

  • Re-allocating water in a water scarce world

    This chapter provides an overview of current and future challenges facing water allocation regimes, which are compromising their performance. It examines how competition for water resources is growing due to shifting demand, climate change, and changing societal preferences. The chapter also discusses how these pressures increase the value of well-designed allocation regimes that perform well across a range of conditions (averages as well as extremes) and can adapt to changing conditions at least cost.

  • A framework for water allocation

    This chapter sets out an analytical framework for water allocation regimes as a basis for examining how they function in a range of countries and how they can be improved. It highlights how water is a complex resource, with distinctive features as an economic good, often with a unique legal status. It identifies the key components of an allocation regime and the policy levers that can be used to improve their performance. Finally, the framework links the elements of allocation regimes with the policy objectives of economic efficiency, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

  • The current water allocation landscape

    This chapter presents the main findings from the OECD Survey of Water Resources Allocation covering 37 examples of allocation regimes from 27 OECD and key partner countries (BRIICS as well as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru). The survey captured information on the current design and functioning of allocation regimes. Overall, the survey provides a solid basis to identify opportunities to improve the performance of current allocation arrangements and informed the development of the policy guidance on allocation presented in the health check of .

  • Reforming water allocation regimes

    This chapter examines common themes related to reform, drawing on case studies documenting the experience of water allocation reform in 10 OECD and BRIICS countries. Although water allocation reform is inherently a political process unique to its time and place, valuable insights can be drawn from the experience of other countries. These can be instructive for those contemplating allocation reform or actively pursuing it. This chapter examines the drivers of reform, the process of identifying and selecting reform options, stakeholder engagement, and other key aspects of the reform process, drawing out insights and lessons learned.

  • A Health Check for Water Resources Allocation

    This chapter sets out a health check for improving the performance of allocation regimes. It builds on both the analytical framework for allocation developed in as well as the practical experience of a range of examples collected via the OECD Survey of Water Resources Allocation analysed in . It uses a series of checks to identify whether key elements of an allocation regime are in place and how their performance could be improved. In some cases, several options for the design of elements are proposed.

  • Glossary

    Abstraction: The capture, diversion, taking of water for any purpose including an environmental purpose.

  • Questionnaire for the OECD project on water resources allocation

    This questionnaire aims to gather an information base on allocation regimesTerms in bold and italics are defined in the appended glossary. in OECD and BRIICS countries, and in Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica, to inform the OECD project on water resources allocation. The information collected will be used to draw out general trends and lessons associated with the design and functioning of water allocation regimes. It will also be used to develop country profiles to summarise the key elements of allocation regimes in a given country.

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