copy the linklink copied!Chapter 3. Water resources governance in Argentina

This chapter assess water resources governance at different levels, including international, national, basin, provincial and metropolitan scales, aiming to identify key features and gaps of the existing multi-level system. Building on the assessment, the chapter highlights bottlenecks related to cooperation across levels of government, water planning, and basin management, and concludes with policy recommendations to better cope with water challenges in the face of climate change.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

copy the linklink copied!Argentina’s climatic, hydrological and river basin system

Argentina is a large country with strong climate variability. The country extends longitudinally over 3 700 km and the continental portion of the territory is about 2 800 000 km² (around 5.5 times the size of Spain). The great latitudinal extension (between 22º and 55º south latitude) and the altimetry variation create wide climate variety from subtropical climates in the northern part of the country to the very cold weather in Patagonia. However, there is a predominance of mild climate in most of the country. When considering climatic and hydrological conditions, three regions can be identified in Argentina:

  1. 1. Humid region (Northeast, Litoral and the Pampa Húmeda region, the Tucuman Oranense Forest in the northwest and the Patagonian Andean Forests in the southwest): receives more than 800 mm/year of precipitation and occupies an area of ​​665 000 km² (24% of total country area). This region concentrates nearly 70% of the national population, 80% of agricultural production (essentially rainfed) and 85% of industrial activity.

  2. 2. Semi-arid region (central strip of the country north of the Colorado River): limited by the isohyets 500 mm to the west and 800 mm to the east, it occupies 405 000 km² (15% of total country area). The region concentrates 28% of the national population and irrigation is essential for the development of certain crops given the important water deficits during a large part of the year.

  3. 3. Arid region (most of the Northwest and central west of the country, the Patagonian Region and the Island of Tierra del Fuego): located to the west of the isohyet 500 mm up to near the foothills of the Andes mountain range, it occupies 61% of the country’s total area. The region concentrates only 6% of the population (density of 1.1 inhabitants/km²) and agricultural production is completely dependent on irrigation.

Argentina is a water-rich country with uneven distribution of water resources. Renewable resources in Argentina, accounting for long-term averages, are approximately 20 400 m3 per capita, which is above that of most OECD countries (Figure 3.1) and well above the water stress threshold defined by the United Nations Development Programme, as equivalent to 1 700 m3 per capita (MCTeIP, 2012). Around 76% of the national territory is subject to conditions of aridity or semi-aridity, with average rainfall of less than 800 mm per year. The Plate River Basin, which concentrates more than 85% of total national water resources, is the largest centre for human settlements, urban development and economic activity in the country. Outside the Sistema of La Plata, the most important rivers in Argentina are those that drain into the Atlantic Ocean (approx. 10% of total national resources), as they act as fluvial corridors of great economic and ecological importance. This is where the most important population settlements of the southern region of the country are located. The total contribution of the Atlantic slope, which includes the Cuenca del Plata, adds almost 95% of the total surface water supply of the country.

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Figure 3.1. Total renewable freshwater resources per capita, long-term annual average values, 2014
Figure 3.1. Total renewable freshwater resources per capita, long-term annual average values, 2014

Note: Data for Argentina for 2012.

Source: OECD (2015b), “Total renewable freshwater resources per capita, long-term annual average values”, in Environment at a Glance 2015,

copy the linklink copied!Legal framework for water resources management

National level

In 1994, Argentina underwent a constitutional reform that introduced an environmental provision (Article 124) acknowledging the historical right, whereby the 23 provinces and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires own the water resources and have jurisdiction over them, including for interjurisdictional rivers. Their powers include policy making, policy implementation, operational management, financing and regulation. In practice, the national government can establish a national water policy, strategy, programme or plan, but needs the support of the provinces to implement it.

There is currently no water law or code at national level for water resources management or water services provision. The 2002 Law 25.688 “Regime of Environmental Management of Waters” created the interjurisdictional river basin committees to promote sustainable environmental management of inter-provincial river basins. This law was subject to numerous criticisms by most provincial water authorities. Provinces claimed that the law colluded with provincial competences that had not been delegated to the national government, such as river basin institutionalisation, management of natural resources, development of local institutions, and water planning and management (Pochat, 2005). Consequently, the 2002 law has not been fully enforced to date.

However, a plethora of laws in other sectors include water-related provisions (Box 3.1). The current national legislation is constituted by norms such as the Civil Code, the Commercial Code, the Mining Code, the Penal Code and other national laws related to energy, navigation, natural resources, etc., which contain provisions directly or indirectly related to water.

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Box 3.1. Environmental laws concerning river basin management in Argentina

Law 25.688 “Regime of Environmental Management of Waters” (2002) establishes the minimum requirements for environmental preservation and use of water resources.

Law 25.675 “General Law of the Environment” (2002) establishes the minimum requirements for sustainable management of the environment and biodiversity preservation and protection.

Law 25.612 “Integral Management of Industrial and Services Waste” (2002) establishes the minimum requirements for sustainable management of all waste resources derived from industrial processes or service activities.

Law 25.831 “Free Access to Environmental Public Information” (2004) guarantees the right to access environmental information produced by national, provincial, and municipal governments, as well as from entities and companies (public, private or mixed) providing public services.

Law 25.916 “Management of Household Waste” (2004) establishes the minimum requirements for environmental protection with regards to household waste management.

Law 26.093 “Regime of Regulation and Promotion for the Sustainable Production and Use of Biofuels” (2006) establishes the normative framework for sustainable production and use of biofuels.

Law 26.331 “Minimum Budgets for Environmental Protection of Native Forests” (2007) establishes the minimum requirements for environmental protection of native forests.

Law 26.639 “Minimum Budgets for the Protection of Glaciers” (2010) establishes the minimum requirements for the preservation of glaciers and the periglacial environment.

In 2003, the 23 provinces, the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and the national government signed a Federal Water Agreement that laid down the foundations of a national water policy. Through that agreement, the parties adopted 49 Guiding Principles for Water Policy, which acknowledge the value of water as a social and environmental resource for the society. The process to develop the 49 guiding principles involved about 3 000 participants through multiple workshops. The principles respect the historical importance of each jurisdiction and try to reconcile local, provincial and national interests. The principles call for the protection of the resource around the following building blocks: water cycle, water and the environment, water and society, water management, water institutions, water law, water economics, and water management tools. For example, some principles define the river basin as the appropriate scale for planning and managing water resources (No. 19) or call for long-term planning (No. 20) (COHIFE, 2003).

Sixteen years later, there has been some progress in making the principles operative, but important challenges remain. They include, among others, interjurisdictional conflicts over waters; planning focuses mainly on the delivery of hard infrastructure (and long-term planning is the exception rather than the rule, as planning is often ad hoc or short term); or discretional investments carried out with no evidence-based decision support system.

Provincial level

To date, all provinces have set their own water codes or laws (Table 3.1). The evolution of the provincial legal framework has gone through different periods (Pochat, 2005):

  • The first provincial water law was passed by the province of Mendoza in 1884. In this semi-arid province, the law established the General Irrigation Department (DGI), an autarkic institution with water police power, which should ensure irrigators’ participation in water management decisions. This law was an exception in the country landscape. In other provinces, without specific water laws, references to water were scattered throughout rural codes or other laws in topics such as drainage, sanitation works, construction of irrigation systems, etc.

  • 1940s-1960s: Several water laws were passed in different provinces (e.g. Jujuy or Santiago del Estero). They included the definitions of public and private water sources, surface and groundwater, water quality, police power, and concessions of use of water resources, etc.

  • In the 1970s, more complex water codes were passed in the provinces of Córdoba, La Pampa, La Rioja, San Juan and San Luis. These codes included principles for water policy and established institutions with an interdisciplinary approach. They also introduced economic concepts such as valuing water.

  • 1990s Water laws started to consider water as a resource of the wider natural environment (e.g. Water Code of the province of Buenos Aires, in 1999). These laws included concepts such as water policy and planning, water disasters, water risk, environmental impact, business concessions for works and services related to water, water registers, flexible water allocation regimes, river basin committees, protection of surface and groundwater sources, and river basins as a planning unit.

  • 2000s onwards: Following the Federal Water Agreement (2003), the remaining provinces without a water code/law passed their own legislations as was the case for the provinces of Santa Fe and Tierra del Fuego.

Legal frameworks for water resources management vary widely across provinces (Bergez, 2008) (Foro Argentino del Agua/SIPH, 2017) (Table 3.1). Some provinces have well-developed legislations while others do not regulate important aspects such as irrigation systems, users organisations, water rights nor enforce the polluter-pays or user-pays principles (FADA-IARH, 2015). To date, seven provinces do not have legal provisions for conjunctive management of surface and groundwater resources.

Overall, few provincial water laws refer explicitly to river basin management as a concept and appropriate scale. The Water Code of the Province of Buenos Aires (Law No. 12.257) has a full provision on basin committees and consortiums. In Santa Fe, Law 9.830 (1986) authorises “the establishment of basin committees that will act as legal entities under public law”, while in Chubut, Law 5.178 states that the executive power will establish and operate management units in river basins of its jurisdiction.

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Table 3.1. Water laws and codes in Argentinian provinces



Water law/code

Groundwater article

Buenos Aires


12.257 – Water Code

Arts. 82-89



2.577 – General Water Law (Legislative Decree)

Arts. 13, 193, 195, 197, 199



3.230 – Water Code

Chapter 6 (Arts. 44-57)



4.148 – Water Code (Legislative Decree)


City of Buenos Aires


3.295 – Water Code




5.589 – Water Code (Legislative Decree)

Arts. 19, 132, 160-162, 175



191/01 – Water Code

Chapter 6 (Arts. 42-55)

Entre Ríos


4 9.172 – Water Law

Chapter 11 (Arts. 36-37)



1.246 – Water Code

Title 8 (Arts. 184-222)



161 – Water Code

Art. 82

La Pampa


2.581 – Water Code

Title 3, Chapter 9 (Arts. 44-60)

La Rioja


4.295 – Water Code

Title 6 (Arts. 162-185)



General Water Law of Mendoza




1.838 – Water Code

Chapter 7 (Arts. 98-106)



899 – Water Code (law)

Title 6 (Arts. 59-79)

Río Negro


2.952 – Water Code

Title 5, Chapter I (Arts. 123-153)



7.017 – Water Code (law)

Chapter 7 (Arts. 140-158)

San Juan


4.392 – Water Code

Title 2 (Arts. 165-196)

San Luis


5.122 – Water Law

Title 4 (Arts. 95-112)

Santa Cruz


1.451 – Water Code

Chapter 8 (Arts. 74-84)

Santa Fe


13.740 – Water Law


Santiago del Estero


4.869 – Water Code (law)

Arts. 158-170

Tierra del Fuego


1.126 – Water Code

Title 8 (Arts. 77-81)



7.139 – Water Law


Source: OECD Questionnaire.

copy the linklink copied!Institutional framework

National level

The Secretariat of Infrastructure and Water Policy (Secretaría de Infraestructura y Política Hídrica, SIPH), created in 2018 within the Ministry of Interior, Public Works and Housing, is the lead institution for water policy at the national level (see Chapter 2). The change from Undersecretary to Secretary of the SIPH somewhat testifies to the higher rank of water in the political agenda. Until the new structure of the SIPH in 2018, the Undersecretariat of Water Resources was responsible for water resources management at the national level. In addition to its leadership in national planning and investment related to water policy and infrastructure, the SIPH represents the national government in interjurisdictional river basin committees.

The Federal Water Resources Council (Consejo Hidrico Federal, COHIFE) was created in 2003 to promote a coherent implementation of the vision set in the 2003 Federal Water Agreement. COHIFE is made up of the SIPH and representatives from the ministries/ secretariats/authorities in charge of water resources of the 23 provinces and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. COHIFE’s role is to provide a platform to exchange ideas and experiences, in particular between provinces that are not part of a same river basin.

The Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development (Secretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable, SAyDS) (within the General Secretariat of the Presidency) is the responsible authority for environmental policy at the national level. The SAyDS’ main responsibilities include strategy and planning to ensure environmental preservation and protection, promoting sustainable development through the rational use of natural resources, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

There are many other national agencies with water resources competences. For instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs represents Argentina in transboundary river basins institutions, the Ministry of Production and Labour leads the implementation of programmes to develop sustainable irrigation practices, the Ministry of Security deals with disaster risk management, or the Ministry of Energy leads hydroelectric power.

Interjurisdictional level

The role of interjurisdictional river basin committees is to provide a space to promote a common vision on water resources management and negotiate agreements across provinces on shared rivers to prioritise actions. In total, there are 16 interjurisdictional river basin committees in Argentina. When conflicts between provinces cannot be resolved, COHIFE may act as a mediating body to facilitate agreements (COHIFE, 2006). The Supreme Court of Justice is the official channel to settle conflicts.

The functions of an interjurisdictional river basin committee are granted by the provinces that establish the committee and, generally, with the endorsement of the national government. Therefore, functions can vary from one committee to another (Table 3.2). In addition to conflict management, the following four interjurisdictional river basin committees have water resources management competences, such as the operation of reservoirs, control of water quality or early warning systems for water-related disasters:

  1. 1. Interjurisdictional Committee of the Colorado River (Comité Interjurisdiccional del Río Colorado, COIRCO): Created in 1976, this committee has representation from the provinces of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Neuquén, La Pampa and Río Negro, and from the national government. Its main role is to implement sustainable irrigation programmes in the basin. Throughout the years, the committee’s powers have been extended to water resources planning, environmental control, public water dominion definition, construction, operation and maintenance of dams. COIRCO also enforces water management and environmental standards for dams in the basin.

  2. 2. Regional Commission of the Bermejo River (Comisión Regional del Río Bermejo, COREBE): Created in 1981, this commission has representation from the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, Jujuy, Salta, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero and the national government. COREBE’s main objective is to achieve integrated water resources management in the basin. It also has international agreements with the Regional Development Corporation of Tarija (the Plurinational State of Bolivia) to manage water resources in the upper basin of the Bermejo River and of the Rio Grande de Tarija.

  3. 3. Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquén and Negro River Basins (Autoridad Interjurisdiccional de las Cuencas de los ríos Limay, Neuquén y Negro, AIC): Created in 1985 after a federal pact between the provinces of Buenos Aires, Neuquén, Río Negro and the national government, which was ratified in three provincial laws in 1986 and in a national law in 1990. The key objective of the authority is to promote the sustainable use of water resources in the basin. The authority manages concession contracts related to hydroelectricity; enforces water management, environmental and dam safety regulations; co-ordinates the use of water resources by each of the provinces; monitors water quality; and produces climate, hydrological and environmental data.

  4. 4. La Picasa Lagoon Basin Committee (Comisión Interjurisdiccional de la laguna La Picasa, CILP) was created by the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe in 1999 to jointly face the challenges posed by the unprecedented growth of water height in the lagoon (due to more overflows from agricultural activities in the three provinces). In 2016, the committee was formally established and, besides the three provinces, the SIPH also participates in the committee. The SIPH has promoted the construction of infrastructure and the establishment of a water quality monitoring system. The committee has achieved important milestones, such as the agreement to conduct a water transfer to the Salado River Basin in the province of Buenos Aires to reduce the risk of uncontrollable overflows of the lagoon. However, remaining challenges persist in mitigating conflicts across the provinces.

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Table 3.2. Interjurisdictional river basin committees in Argentina


Name of the committee



Deliberative, consultative

Inter-provincial Commission of the Lower Atuel (CIAI)

La Pampa, Mendoza and the national government


Interjurisdictional Commission of the Arroyo Medrano Basin (CICAM)

Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires and the national government


Interjurisdictional Organisation of the Senguerr River Basin (SENGUERR)

Chubut and Santa Cruz


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Chubut River Basin (COIRCHU)

Chubut, Río Negro and the national government


Decision making; deliberative, consultative

Interjurisdictional Committee of the Vila-Cululú and Northeast Stream Basin of the Province of Córdoba (CAVICU)

Córdoba, Santa Fe and the national government


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Submeridional Lowlands (CIRHBAS)

Chaco, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero and the national government


Interjurisdictional Commission of the La Picasa Basin (CICL)

Buenos Aires, Còrdoba, Santa Fe and the national government


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Hydrological Region of the Northwest of the Pampas Plain (CIRHNOP)

Buenos Aires, Còrdoba, La Pampa, Santa Fe and the national government


Interjurisdictional Commission for the Carcarañá River Basin (CIRC)

Córdoba, Santa Fe and the national government


Monitoring Commission of the Water Region of the Desaguadero River (DESAGUADERO)

Buenos Aires, La Pampa, La Rioja, Mendoza, Neuquén, Rio Negro, San Juan, San Luis and the national government


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Pilcomayo River Basin (National) (PILCOMAYO)

Formosa, Jujuy, Salta and the national government


Río Azul River Basin Authority (ACRA)

Chubut and Río Negro


Juramento River Basin Committee – Salado (JURAMENTO)

Catamarca, Salta, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Tucumán and the national government


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Sali Dulce Basin (SALI DULCE)

Catamarca, Córdoba, Salta, Santiago del Estero, Tucumán and the national government


Decision making; deliberative, consultative

Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquén and Negro River Basins (AIC)

Buenos Aires, Neuquén, Río Negro and the national government


Regional Committee of the Bermejo River (COREBE)

Chaco, Formosa, Jujuy, Salta, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero and the national government


Interjurisdictional Committee of the Colorado River (COIRCO)

Buenos Aires, La Pampa, Mendoza, Neuquén, Río Negro and the national government


Notes: Role: decision making (decisions on water resources management are taken within the river basin organisation), deliberative (deliberates on water policy and issues recommendations for action), consultative (decisions are consulted with the river basin organisation), executive (executes the mandate of provinces or the national government).

Sources: OECD Questionnaire.

The financial and staff capacity of interjurisdictional committees also vary across provinces. COIRCO, COREBE and AIC have their own legal status and budget for operational, managerial, technical and administrative personnel costs. In the case of the La Picasa Lagoon Basin Committee, the national government funds the committee’s activities, including the development of infrastructure. The other committees do not have a legal status nor a dedicated budget for their activities and function in a similar manner to the CILP. Staff working in the committees are often officials from provincial governments, and financial resources to sustain the committee’s activities come from diverse sources, including the provinces, the national government or international co-operation (development banks).

Provincial level

There are a plethora of water authorities at the provincial level, including ministries, secretariats, undersecretariats, directorates, authorities, departments and institutes (Table 3.3).

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Table 3.3. Subnational authorities in charge of water resources management in Argentina



Autarkic (Yes/no)

Buenos Aires

Water Authority



Secretariat of Water Resources (MOySP)



Provincial Water Administration



Provincial Water Institute



Ministry of Water, Environment and Energy



Institute of Water and Environment of Corrientes


Entre Ríos

Ministry of Planning, Infrastructure and Services



Provincial Unit for Water Co-ordination



Ministry of Infrastructure, Public Services, Land and Housing


La Pampa

Secretariat of Water Resources


La Rioja

La Rioja Provincial Water Institute (IPALAR)



General Department of Irrigation



Water and Sanitation Institute of Misiones



Undersecretariat of Water Resources


Río Negro

Provincial Water Department



Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Production


San Juan

Hydraulic Department of San Juan


San Luis

San Luis Agua S.E.


Santa Cruz

Ministry of Economy and Public Works


Santa Fe

Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport


Santiago del Estero

Ministry of Water and the Environment


Tierra del Fuego

Secretariat of Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change



Water Resources Directorate of Tucumán


Source: COHIFE (2019), “Representantes jurisdiccionales”, (accessed in June 2019).

At the provincial level, two basic institutional frameworks can be observed for water resources management:

  1. 1. Centralised administration: In such situations, the key institution with water responsibilities is dependent of the provincial government. In the majority of provinces, the institution in charge of the water portfolio is the line ministry or secretariat within the government.

  2. 2. Decentralised management: In some provinces, the lead institution for water resources management enjoys significant independence from the government. This is the case of Mendoza for instance, where the General Irrigation Department (DGI) is institutionally and financially independent from the provincial government. Among others, the DGI plans and implements allocation regimes, controls and administers water concessions for different uses (a large part of water rights are for agricultural use), and collects water charges. According to their water law, other provinces with autarkic institutions in charge of water resources management are Corrientes, La Rioja and Misiones.

A few provinces, such as Chubut and Santa Fe, have provincial river basin committees and others provinces have created more ad hoc river basin committees such as the Committee for the Sustainable Development of the San Roque Lake Basin, constituted in the province of Córdoba to deal with a water pollution issue.

Metropolitan level

Argentina has 92% of its population living in urban areas (higher than the Latin American region average of 80.2%). The Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires hosts more than 37% of the total population, followed by large cities with more than 1 million inhabitants (Córdoba, Mendoza, Rosario and Tucumán) and 34 cities with a population between 100 000 and 1 million inhabitants.

Key urban water management challenges include:

  • Geographic location: The geographic position of cities determines the main challenges they are exposed to as well as their capacity to respond due to possible physical constraints. In Argentina, delta cities, such as the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA) face different water-related risks than those located in mountainous dry areas (e.g. city of Mendoza). For instance, the AMBA must deal with flood risks while in Mendoza scarcity is the most pressing water challenge.

  • Size: Large water demands in metropolitan areas can have an impact on water quality and quantity. For instance, in the Matanza-Riachuelo and Reconquista Basin located within the AMBA, water quality has been impaired by lack of access to sanitation services as well as industrial activities generating water pollution. Another well-known case of water pollution located near a large urban area is the Salí-Dulce Basin in the province of Tucuman.

  • Spatial organisation has an impact on water consumption trends and infrastructure development. Urban sprawl is high in Argentinian agglomerations. According to the inter-census data for 2001 and 2010, a higher density loss was identified for the most fragmented agglomerations, i.e. in those with a larger number of municipalities (National Presidency Report, 2017). Urban sprawl puts greater pressure on the environment than compact cities, due to land-use stress, fragmentation of natural habitats and increasing air pollution emissions. As a result of poor urban planning, settlements are developed in areas with poor infrastructure conditions or which are highly vulnerable to floods. This is the case of the metropolitan area of Córdoba, where the lack of proper water infrastructure results in turn in a higher impact on water quality that altogether brings the city into a downward spiral of environmental quality

  • Demographic dynamics affect water demand and supply and can challenge the capacity of local governments to meet increasing demands for water and sanitation services. In Argentina, informal housing settlements for low-income households raise particular challenges, reinforcing the growth of precarious areas in places that already have limited access to basic infrastructure. The National Registry of Disfavoured Neighbourhoods (RENABAP) estimates that 4 million people currently live in more than 4 400 precarious settlements, which often lack access to water or basic services and have no property rights.

The last 15 years have seen the establishment of four basin committees to manage urban water risks in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires:

  1. 1. Committee of the Reconquista River Basin (COMIREC) was created in 2001 (Law 12.653) to manage water pollution risks in the Reconquista River Basin, which covers 1 700 km2 including 18 municipalities of the AMBA. Among others, the Reconquista River is the second most polluted river in Argentina, registering high levels of heavy metals and pathogenic microorganisms, due to poor industrial wastewater treatment. COMIREC has legal capacity to plan, co-ordinate, execute and control aspects related to basin management.

  2. 2. Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR): The most well-known case in Argentina of a river basin approach to manage urban water risks is located in the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin (Figure 3.2). The Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin has been suffering from a long-standing severe water pollution problem. Around 80% of pollution comes from untreated wastewater of urban households, while 20% is from industrial activities (ACUMAR, 2019). ACUMAR was created in 2006 (Law 26.168) in response to the worrying situation of environmental deterioration. It is an autonomous, self-governing and interjurisdictional entity (national government, province of Buenos Aires and Autonomous City of Buenos Aires). In 2008, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation urged ACUMAR to implement a sanitation plan in response to the legal case known as “Causa Mendoza”, a claim filed in 2004 by a group of neighbours (Box 3.2). Launched in 2009 (and updated in 2016), the Comprehensive Environmental Sanitation Plan (Plan Integral de Saneamiento Ambiental, PISA) guides the activities of ACUMAR. PISA is organised around 14 action lines that compile projects in the AMBA to control, prevent and manage environmental degradation. Despite improvements in the past years, the basin has not achieved yet established water quality and ecosystems biodiversity goals.

  3. 3. Interjurisdictional Commission of the Arroyo Medrano Basin (CICAM): The Arroyo Medrano Basin cuts across the administrative boundaries of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and the municipalities of San Martín, Tres de Febrero and Vicente López in the province of Buenos Aires. Numerous floods throughout the years, some of them with important consequences such as the flood in April 2013 which killed eight people, have triggered the creation of the CICAM. The commission was created in 2016 and is comprised of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, the province of Buenos Aires and the national government, to reduce the impact of floods in the basin.

  4. 4. Committee of the Lujan River Basin (COMILU) was created in 2016 (Law 14.817) mainly to mitigate the serious consequences of floods of the Lujan River Basin in the AMBA. The Luján River Basin is one of the most populous, with an area of ​​2 690 km2, and partially crosses 15 municipalities of the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (Campana, Chacabuco, Escobar, Exaltación de la Cruz, General Rodríguez, José C. Paz, Luján, Malvinas Argentinas, Mercedes, Moreno, Pilar, San Andrés de Giles, San Fernando, Suipacha, Tigre). COMILU’s main responsibilities are territorial and environmental planning, and control of clandestine channels and pollution of the basin.

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Box 3.2. The judicial case of the Matanza Riachuelo (The “Mendoza Case”)

The Matanza Riachuelo Basin, located in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, is the largest most polluted basin in Argentina. It covers the southern part of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and 14 municipalities of the province of Buenos Aires (see Figure 3.2). Although the pollution issue dates back to the industrial development of the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, it was in the last decades that it gained political and media visibility.

In 2004, residents of the neighbourhood of Avellaneda filed a lawsuit about the environmental deterioration of the basin, based on the right to a healthy environment established in Article 41 of the national Constitution. The claim took legal-institutional viability when, in 2006, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation declared its competence in the matter. The court dictated that the state has the obligation to restore the environmental damage caused to the ecosystems as well as to prevent future damage. The three administrations with jurisdiction in the area (national government, province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires) were thus required to design an Integral Plan for Environmental Sanitation of the basin. The Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) was created to design such a plan. Since 2008, several advances have been achieved (cleaning of margins and waste dumps, eliminating towpaths, controlling industrial pollution, etc.), although serious challenges still persist to achieve the full environmental recovery of the basin.

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Figure 3.2. The Matanza-Riachuelo river basin
Figure 3.2. The Matanza-Riachuelo river basin

Source: ACUMAR (2019a), “Mapas de la cuenca”, (accessed in June 2019); ACUMAR (2019b), “Institucional”, (accessed in June 2019).

International level

Argentina shares water resources with its neighbouring countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay), with varying institutional arrangements:

  • Institutions established to manage water at basin or sub-basin level: Intergovernmental Co-ordinating Committee of the Plata Basin (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Binational Administrative Commission of the Lower Basin of the Pilcomayo River (Argentina and Paraguay), Binational Commission for the Development of the Upper Bermejo River Basin and the Rio Grande de Tarija (Argentina and Bolivia), Trinational Commission for the Development of the Basin of the Pilcomayo River (Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay).

  • Institutions established to manage water in some river sections: Administrative Commission of the Plata River (Argentina and Uruguay), Mixed Technical Commission of the Maritime Front (Argentina and Uruguay), Administrative Commission of the Uruguay River (Argentina and Uruguay), Argentine-Paraguayan Joint Commission of the Paraná River (Argentina and Paraguay).

  • Institutions established to manage one issue or project: large multi-purpose reservoir, such as Mixed Technical Commission of Salto Grande (Argentina and Uruguay) and Yacyretá Binational Entity (Argentina and Paraguay); or navigation such as the Intergovernmental Committee of the Paraguay-Paraná Waterway (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay).

  • Argentine-Chilean Working Group on Shared Water Resources, which is responsible for inventorying and planning tasks for shared water resources.

Provinces and the national level should agree on or coordinate actions in international committees (e.g. signature of agreements or other negotiations), which will have an impact at subnational level. Provinces and the national level should therefore define consultation mechanisms that help establish a common federal position in international committees.

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Fragmentation of roles and responsibilities

As in many countries, water resources governance in Argentina is scattered across ministries, public agencies and levels of government. There is no national water authority or equivalent concentrating most water-related competences. In the absence of effective co-ordination, silo approaches can result in incoherence between subnational policy needs and national policy initiatives, and deliver suboptimal outcomes. At the provincial level, the overlapping of competences with regards to water resources is also frequent and poses challenges for integrated water resources management (Berardo, Olivier and Meyer, 2013).

The absence of comprehensive legal frameworks at the national level does not help address this institutional complexity. Existing mechanisms to co-ordinate water resources policies across levels of government have not been effective. The Federal Water Resources Council (COHIFE), created in 2003 to promote a coherent implementation of the vision set in the Federal Water Agreement, has neither enforcement nor coercive powers. Moreover, COHIFE faces capacity challenges due to shortage of a dedicated secretariat (presidency rotates every year) and permanent technical staff. This can potentially undermine the continuity of knowledge-sharing activities as well as other initiatives undertaken by COHIFE.

Even when interjurisdictional river basin committees are in place, the fragmentation of competences, heterogeneity of water management capacity, and difficulties to reach agreements, have generated conflicts between provinces (Box 3.3). In Argentina, 90% of water availability is inter-provincial, which necessitates co-operation and co-ordination among provinces (Rodriguez and Dardis, 2011). The large heterogeneity of provincial water agencies’ technical and financial capacity makes inter-provincial management of water resources a complicated daunting task. There are cases such as the province of Mendoza, with a sophisticated framework of water regulations, while other provinces have only recently begun to develop their water management institutions, with many of them passing provincial water codes/laws in the last two decades. Moreover, there are cases where it is not optimal from an economic standpoint for the provincial authorities to co-ordinate actions with other provinces. For instance, the province of Tucumán has historically avoided meaningful action to reduce water pollution in the Salí River produced by citrus and sugar cane farmers, who contribute greatly to the provincial economy. The river runs through Tucumán and then enters the provinces of Santiago del Estero and Córdoba, which have complained for decades about high pollution levels generated upstream (Berardo, Olivier and Meyer, 2013). Lastly, it is not clear whether COHIFE can serve as an effective platform to solve conflicts of a large magnitude. Despite the fact that one of its goals is to “become a mediating or arbitrating venue (when the parties in conflict request it) in all issues related to interjurisdictional waters”, conflicts have remained even after COHIFE established a voluntary mechanism to solve this type of conflict.

The interface between water resources at the river basin scale and land-use management is also highly fragmented. While provincial jurisdictions are in charge of regulating resources (water, mining, etc.), land regulation is under the exclusive responsibility of local governments. Because of the split of competences for water management and land use across provincial and municipal levels, there is a considerable spatial heterogeneity in terms of compliance and enforcement for two main reasons. First, land-use planning and management tools at local and provincial level are not widely used. In 2018, only 34% of local governments had territorial plans (National Presidency Report, 2017). Second, there is a mismatch in how water and territorial development are managed across multiple scales. There is an absence of provincial integrated land-use plans to guide municipal plans and that would factor in water resources.

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Box 3.3. Water conflicts across jurisdictions in Argentina

Allocation regimes

The inter-provincial conflict between Mendoza and La Pampa over the Atuel River is an illustrative example of disputes over river allocation regimes. The Atuel flows from the southern area of the province of Mendoza (upstream user) into the northern section of the province of La Pampa (downstream user). Both provinces depend heavily on this body of water for the well-being of their economies largely made up by the agriculture and tourism industries, and struggle to find agreements on water allocation.

Flood management

The management of the La Picasa lagoon, which flows through the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe, has generated long-standing conflicts between these provinces since the 1990s. Land-use changes due to the growth of agricultural activities in the land surrounding the lagoon led to increased works by the different provinces to carry water from the lagoon into neighbouring land. Due to the uncoordinated nature of these works by different provincial authorities as well as clandestine channelling of water into private land, the lagoon ballooned in size as a result of increased drainage. It grew from 8 000 ha to approximately 35 000 ha, with the result of exceptional flooding in the surrounding provinces and the consequent destruction of crops and properties. Works conducted by the different provinces have also altered the natural regime of the basin systems, resulting in lawsuits among them. Even after the establishment of the La Picasa Lagoon Basin Committee, conflicts have continued to arise during times of flooding.

Water quality

The Salí-Dulce River Basin shared by the provinces of Santiago del Estero and Tucumán has created entrenched conflict between the two provinces. Human activity has caused massive pollution of surface water, in the form of waste from the sugar, paper, textile and mining industries; alcohol distillers; citrus and refrigeration activities; compounded with the generation of urban solid waste from neighbouring urban centres. The water from the Salí-Dulce River carries an elevated amount of organic matter into the Hondo River Reservoir, causing massive fish mortalities and the appearance of a large amount of algae. The resulting foul smell stemming from the decomposition of the detritus in the water negatively affects the tourism industry of the Hondo River, which is its main source of income. This situation motivated the creation of the Interjurisdictional Committee of the Salí-Dulce River Basin as a way to encourage co-operation, collaboration and co-ordination between the provinces that make up the basin and the national authorities involved in the matter.

Sources: Berardo, R., T. Olivier and M. Meyer (2013), “Adaptive governance and integrated water resources management in Argentina”,; SAyDS (2019), “Río Salí Dulce”, (consulted in June 2019).

Weak water planning framework at all levels of government

National water-related planning focuses on infrastructure delivery

Policy objectives are weakly co-ordinated across the various national plans, but good co-operation can be found at project level. The ethos of the National Water Plan (NWP) is to consider water as a key aspect for economic performance and to bridge social gaps through better access to services and infrastructure. Water resources preservation and ensuring projects respect environmental standards (namely, through environmental impact assessments) are key features of the implementation of the NWP. However, the NWP could also be more prominently linked to overall national environmental objectives. For instance, through a more systemic approach to water security looking at all water risks. Currently there is a strong focus on universal access to water services (Axis 1 of the NWP) and on managing floods and droughts risks (Axis 2 of the NWP), but no systemic approach to deal with risks related to the disruption of aquatic ecosystems. Similarly, the National Irrigation Plan aims to develop new irrigation systems and improve the efficiency of the irrigation sector, but also has limited connections to broader national environmental objectives. The Belgrano Plan focuses on delivering infrastructure in ten provinces in the north of the country, which together with the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires are home to the largest number of poor households in the country (Box 3.4). However, at project level there are examples of good co-operation across national level ministries and secretaries as well as with provinces. For instance, to define multi-purpose infrastructure developments, the National Directorate of Multipurpose Achievements is working jointly with the Secretariat of Energy; the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development; the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries; and the Secretariat of Tourism. Through this co-operation, the secretariats share the information they have on specific projects and help determine the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the project. This work is also closely co-ordinated with the provinces that will benefit from the investment.

Interjurisdictional river basin committees are still not equipped to operate as planning agencies

Where they exist, interjurisdictional river basin committees are still not equipped to operate as planning entities, with few exceptions. The NWP encourages the development of plans for interjurisdictional river basins and in shared basins with neighbouring countries. These plans identify, define and prioritise measures to solve specific problematics of the basin. However, they have been limited in scope, since they usually focus on individual projects to solve specific issues rather than seeking to align national and provincial policy priorities and objectives. The NWP aims to change the current project-based approach followed by the interjurisdictional river basin plans towards more systemic drought and flood management (i.e. plans that combine both structural and non-structural measures to deal with water risks). Moreover, most of the committees still do not have technical or financial capacity to develop or implement such plans, despite recent support by SIPH. Their main role has traditionally consisted of providing a space to negotiate agreements between provinces on interjurisdictional rivers. The objective of the current administration is to enlarge the role of the committees towards planning and management of water resources. For instance, AIC is one of the committees that has solid capacities on operational hydrology (flood forecasting, drought forecasting), hydrometeorological predictions, defining water quality standards, or inventorying water resources, among others, and that could become a planning entity.

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Box 3.4. National water-related plans in Argentina

The National Water Plan (NWP), launched in 2016, set ambitious objectives to manage water risks and place water at the core of economic and social development. By 2023, the national government aims to increase coverage to 100% for drinking water supply and 75% for sewage connections. The NWP also aims to increase protection against floods and droughts through strategic actions that combine both hard infrastructure – such as building flood protection infrastructure in cities or increasing the number of dams – along with better early warning and information systems, including a network of meteorological double polarization radars (SINARAME). Finally, the NWP seeks to support the irrigation needs of the agricultural sector by expanding the cultivated area by 300 000 ha by 2022 (an increase of 17%). To achieve these objectives the plan set ambitious targets to deliver infrastructure projects through both public and private investment (see Box 2.). It also proposed implementing actions on four cross-sectoral axis:

  • Preservation of water resources, including mitigation and recovery of disrupted ecosystems, by ensuring infrastructure projects respect the natural environment

  • Capacity building: the Plan aims to develop knowledge and tools that help implement policies more effectively and efficiently

  • Advancing technological developments related to the preservation of the quality and quantity of water

  • Using the plan as an engagement mechanism through which perspectives and opinions of water stakeholders help choose the best solutions and investments to achieve the objectives of the plan.

The main goal of the National Irrigation Plan (NIP), developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, is to promote sustainable development of irrigated agriculture throughout the country. The NIP aims to duplicate the current irrigated area to reach 4 million hectares by 2030 and to increase water efficiency for irrigation. For this purpose, the plan has seven specific action lines:

  1. 1. public and private institutions: strengthen the capacities of national and provincial public actors, as well as of irrigator organisations and private agents

  2. 2. education and training: train public and private agents in the design, implementation and management of policies required for the use, expansion, renovation and maintenance of the different irrigation systems

  3. 3. research and information: co-ordinate research conducted by different institutions on water resources use in irrigation, adapting agriculture to climate change, and technologies to improve irrigation

  4. 4. public investment: co-ordinate public investment on irrigation systems across national and provincial levels of government

  5. 5. financing: stimulate public and private financing to fund investments in the expansion and renewal of irrigation systems

  6. 6. environment: strengthen activities to increase environmental preservation, in particular by raising awareness for the need to preserve land and water to adapt to climate change

  7. 7. legislation: co-ordinate activities across national and provincial governments to establish a clear and homogenous legislative scheme of water use and ownership.

The Belgrano Plan, launched in 2015, seeks to compensate the historic lack of investments in the north of Argentina, promote productive development, combat drug trafficking and improve security. The plan focuses heavily on investment in large infrastructure projects (e.g. roads, railways, airports) as well as on promoting infrastructure for the production of renewable energies and gas. It also focuses on improving poor and remote neighbourhoods, including providing better water and sanitation services and street lighting, building decent housing (the plan proposes housing for over 250 000 families), providing childcare infrastructure and improving telecommunications. Total investment amounts to USD 16 billion over ten years. The water section of the Belgrano Plan focuses on water and sanitation services and is under the portfolio of the SIPH, which finances infrastructure through loans from multilateral banks (Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America). In the last 3 years, 11 projects have been executed for a total of Argentinian pesos 6.5 billion.

Sources: SIPH (2016), “Plan Nacional de Agua”, Ministry of the Interior, Public Works and Housing, Buenos Aires, ; Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (n.d.), “Plan Nacional de Riego”, (consulted in June 2019); Chief of Cabinet (2019), “Unidad Plan Belgrano”, (consulted in June 2019).

Provincial water planning varies across jurisdictions

Provincial water plans are the exception rather than the rule in Argentina, and where they do exist, they usually have an exclusive infrastructure or sectoral focus. For instance, the province of Entre Rios has a Plan on Water Supply that focuses on expanding coverage of water services, but it does not address water resources management.

However, some provinces are well-advanced in developing long-term water planning linked to regional development objectives. For instance, in the province of San Luis, water features prominently in the strategic goal of the province. The Province of San Luis Water Plan 2012-2025 prompts the use of policy instruments to deal with water risks at provincial level. In particular, the plan is structured around six strategic axes: infrastructure, planning, monitoring, culture, quality and management (Province of San Luis, 2011).

Challenges to co-ordinate national, provincial and basin planning

There are multiple challenges to implementing the national plans, at the provincial level. These include the need of further engagement from the provinces in the design process; complex, multiple, and heterogeneous legal and institutional frameworks at subnational level; and difficulties in aligning political priorities across levels of government:

  • The design of national water-related plans could be better co-ordinated across levels of government. Provinces are not involved in the national planning process, which can lead to a lack of ownership over the goals, objectives and measures included in them. For instance, the design process of the NWP, the National Irrigation Plan (NIP) or the Belgrano Plan could have better engaged the provinces to target and align with their infrastructural capacities, needs and priorities.

  • Shifting policy priorities and agendas also challenge the possibility of aligning national and provincial planning. Provinces usually design their own portfolio of projects and seek national funding to implement them, although not necessarily always linked to national plans (even with the financial incentive of the national government to cover 67/70% of projects related to the NWP). The risk of overinvestment in large infrastructure often due to the lack of alignment of policy priorities across levels of government, should be contained by a systematic economic, social and environmental assessment of the proposed infrastructure developments. There are examples of projects delivered not because they will add the maximum value to the economy or close a large social divide, but because they are appealing in terms of their multi-level financial agreements.

  • Heterogeneous legal and institutional frameworks across provinces are also a source of complexity. For instance, ten provinces are expected to execute the Belgrano Plan water supply and sanitation infrastructure. In such cases, there are important differences in concession contracts to service providers (e.g. Córdoba, Corrientes, Misiones and Santiago del Estero have private operators, while other utilities in the country are publicly owned), and regulators for water supply and sanitation, which range from the existence of a dedicated multi-sectoral regulator in the cases of Catamarca, Formosa, Jujuy, Salta and Tucumán, to a series of provincial water and sanitation regulators for Chaco, Corrientes, Misiones and Santiago del Estero. Thus, ten very different water services governance models have to be taken into account to implement the Belgrano Plan.

Weak basin management practices

The general sense of water abundance in some basins in Argentina (e.g. La Plata Basin) does not help to fully engage all ministries and levels of government in the shift from crisis management to risk management. At metropolitan, provincial and interjurisdictional scale, basin management is reactive, remedial and unplanned, rather than proactive, pre-emptive and planned, with few exceptions. It also obscures problems of water pollution, demand, availability and conflicts. While basins are acknowledged as the appropriate scale for water management by the 2003 Federal Water Agreement, sound basin management is overall the exception rather than the rule in Argentina. In terms of water resources management, optimisation at the provincial level leads to suboptimal results, and can lead to serious maladaptation, thus failing to achieve or worsening water risks in the face of climate change in the medium to long term in the use of scarce (financial and water) resources, constraining economic growth and preventing efficiency gains.

Insufficient use of economic instruments

The use of economic instruments varies across jurisdictions: some provinces do not charge for bulk water withdrawal or for pollution; others charge according to the water use or the category of users; and some apply, to a certain extent, the polluter-pays principle. It is common to have tariffs for certain industrial uses such as petroleum activities, while other categories of users do not pay for water abstraction use and pollution. Irrigators pay a “canon” expressed in an annual fee per hectare, under the concept of water-land ownership.

The current, insufficient, level of implementation of economic instruments in Argentina (Foro Argentino del Agua/SIPH, 2017) does not promote the efficient use of water resources. In many cases, the level of tariffs or fees does not reflect the economic value of water, and the current system does not offer incentives to change behaviours, promote water use efficiency and better manage water demand. Water charges focus on recovering costs related to the activities required for water management, and are not designed to increase efficiency, improve equity in water use or reduce consumption. A cross-sectoral analysis of economic instruments in the city of Buenos Aires and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, La Pampa and Santa Fe concluded that as they currently exist, economic instruments for water use do not encourage efficient use of water resources (Deraiopian, 2016). The analysis reveals, for example, that in the case of the province of Córdoba, the payments for water use are regressive (i.e. water users with higher volumetric consumption pay less per volume unit). It also reveals that, with the exception of the provinces of Buenos Aires and Córdoba and the city of Buenos Aires, economic instruments for water pollution lack a methodology for calculating tariffs. In fact, there are quite a few emblematic cases where the externalities associated with the use of water have resulted in grave environmental degradation, for example, groundwater (Puelches in Buenos Aires), rivers (Matanza Riachuelo River, in Buenos Aires, Salado in Santa Fe) or lakes (San Roque in Córdoba). Similar results were found in a similar exercise conducted by Padin Goodall (2015) between provinces located in the regions of Cuyo and Patagonia. This could be an indication that current use of economic instruments throughout Argentina is not fit-for-purpose (Andino, 2016).

Patchy and insufficient data and information

Water-related data are dispersed among a wide range of sources, which include the public sector (at national, provincial and municipal level), users associations, research institutions and others. Each province produces its own water-related data, and there is no formal requirement to share such data with the national government, nor a unified collection or monitoring system. Dispersion of data is resulting in a lack of basic water information at national and provincial level on indicators such as abstraction rate by water use at basin level or infrastructure maintenance data. Moreover, the quality of data collected can vary across provinces.

Important efforts are underway to harmonise data across levels of government, although there is still room for improvement (Foro Argentino del Agua/SIPH, 2017). The largest databank in relation to water resources management is the National Hydrological Network (RHN) established in 1907. The RHN is a nationwide database that incorporates data from the SIPH’s gauging stations as well as from other institutions that have adhered voluntarily to the database. Such institutions include national and provincial research institutes: National Institute for Water (Instituto Nacional del Agua, INA), National Technological Institute for Agriculture (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, INTA) and the Argentine Institute of Nivology, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales, IANIGLA) (which operates under the umbrella of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council [CONICET], the National University of Cuyo and the Government of the Province of Mendoza). It also includes data from the provincial water authorities/departments Corrientes, Chaco, Entre Rios and Río Negro. The RHN is being modernised and expanded. It has incorporated new instruments and technology for the transmission of real-time data via cellular and satellite networks in 422 existing stations and the objective is to have more than 650 stations by 2023, of which more than 500 will transmit data several times a day. Once the expansion of the RHN is completed, it will provide a comprehensive inventory on water resources as well as real-time data and information.

However, in order to become a comprehensive information system on water resources, the RHN should be complemented with other types of data and information. First, there is a lack of data and information in a large number of domains. For instance, there is no information on which type of economic instruments exist at provincial level nor the levels of the tariff, no data on agricultural production or industrial activities and water use, no economic analysis on the impact of water-related decisions, etc. Second, it is difficult to find disaggregated data and information at different scales and levels of government (interjurisdictional basins, provinces, provincial basins and municipalities) and from different jurisdictions. Third, there is also a need to expand groundwater data and information availability (Foro Argentino del Agua/SIPH, 2017).

Stakeholder engagement

In general, water users are rather poorly engaged in the planning, management and control of water resources. When assessing stakeholder engagement mechanisms in Argentina against OECD standards (Box 3.5), several flaws can be observed. First, formal or informal mechanisms to engage stakeholders are not well-known among non-governmental actors (FADA-IARH, 2015). Second, in many instances, there is little political will to engage non-governmental actors in decision-making processes. For instance, although COHIFE provides a multi-level forum to help governmental representatives take decisions on water resources management issues, no mechanisms exist to involve non-governmental actors in decision making. Lastly, there is a lack of technical knowledge in non-governmental organisations with regards to rational and sustainable use of water resources (FADA-IARH, 2015).

When stakeholder engagement mechanisms do exist, they can be limited in scope and it is difficult to assess whether they are effectively delivering their functions. One of the few institutions that has a dedicated space to involve stakeholders in the decision-making process can be found in the province of Salta. The provincial water law passed in 1998 (Law 7.017) created the Provincial Water Council. The objective of this entity is to advise responsible public authorities on water resources planning and management. Five representatives from the agricultural sector, one from the industrial sector and one from the mining sector compose the council. The provincial application authority must gather the Provincial Water Council at least once a month to discuss and inform about water policy (Province of Salta, 1998). However, the scope of the Provincial Water Council seems somewhat limited. The province of Salta has around 1.3 million inhabitants and hosts one of the largest indigenous communities; however, households and indigenous groups do not have a seat in the council. Moreover, it is difficult to assess the accountability of the council’s activities. There are no public reporting systems on the council’s discussions, or on how inputs provided by stakeholders influenced the decision-making process.

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Box 3.5. OECD stakeholder engagement in the water sector: Key principles

The OECD (2015a) proposes a set of key principles and a Checklist for Public Action, with indicators, international references and self-assessment questions that can help guide stakeholder engagement processes and identify areas for improvement. The key principles of this framework are:

  • Principle 1: Map all stakeholders who have a stake in the outcome or that are likely to be affected, as well as their responsibility, core motivations and interactions.

  • Principle 2: Define the ultimate line of decision making, the objectives of stakeholder engagement and the expected use of inputs.

  • Principle 3: Allocate proper financial and human resources and share needed information for result-oriented stakeholder engagement.

  • Principle 4: Regularly assess the process and outcomes of stakeholder engagement to learn, adjust and improve accordingly.

  • Principle 5: Embed engagement processes in clear legal and policy frameworks, organisational structures/principles and responsible authorities.

  • Principle 6: Customise the type and level of engagement to the needs and keep the process flexible to changing circumstances.

Source: OECD (2015a), Stakeholder Engagement for Inclusive Water Governance,

copy the linklink copied!Policy recommendations

While the 2003 Federal Water Agreement recognises the role of water as a driver for sustainable development, the underpinning institutional, policy, regulatory and operational architecture is not necessarily set to support that intended outcome. There is room to strengthen the current water resources governance framework to better cope with water challenges in the face of climate change.

Rejuvenate the Federal Water Agreement to improve water resources governance

The 2003 Federal Water Agreement was a significant step towards strengthening water resources governance. It acknowledged the need for flexibility and context-specific solutions in a diverse federal country such as Argentina, and introduced topics that were until then often overlooked, such as basin management, the economic value of water, interdependence of water and the environment, or long-term planning.

Argentina should work towards a rejuvenated agreement or pact (see recommendation in Chapter 2) across national and provincial levels to enhance water resources governance. A rejuvenated agreement could help overcome the mistaken idea that Argentina is in a deadlock with respect to water resources governance due to its federal system and related complexity for multi-level governance. Federalism precisely is an opportunity and offers strong potential for multi-level partnerships to deal with water challenges at all appropriate levels of government in a shared responsibility.

There are three key priorities that provinces and the national government should aim to advance in a rejuvenated federal agreement:

  1. 1. Establishing a multi-level water planning framework that helps align national and provincial priorities, and provides a uniform unit of analysis and methodology for the development of plans. Planning can be a powerful co-ordinating vehicle across ministries and levels of government, but its potential has not been fully exploited in Argentina.

  2. 2. Strengthening existing basin governance arrangements to tackle water issues at the right scale. Water conflicts across provincial jurisdictions prevail even with the creation of 16 interjurisdictional basin committees and the explicit reference to interjurisdictional management of waters in the Federal Water Agreement.

  3. 3. Improving basin management practices. Argentina should support effective basin management practices, in particular on three fronts: 1) economic instruments; 2) data and information systems; and 3) stakeholder engagement.

Establish multi-level water planning framework for Argentina

Argentina should establish a comprehensive, effective and efficient long-term planning framework at all levels of government to address issues of federative management, and factor in both short-term considerations (economic, social and environmental performance) and long-term projected impacts (e.g. climate change, population growth). Plans should have a different focus depending on the level of government (national, interjurisdictional, provincial).

  • National planning should link water policy and the country’s broader development strategy and set clear targets on allocation regimes, water entitlements and infrastructure development. While the NWP takes stock of necessary actions in Argentina to promote economic development and close social gaps and acknowledges the need to preserve water resources, it does not relate sufficiently to the overall environmental and other water-related sectors’ policy objectives.

  • Interjurisdictional basin planning should set targets for allocation regimes and environmental flows and the level of the tariff of economic instruments, among others, to foster co-operation and alignment of provincial priorities across the river basin.

  • Provincial planning should tailor national priorities to the territorial specificities, link water planning to the broader regional development strategy, and put in place policy tools to achieve the objectives set: deciding on allocation regimes (water uses), developing a project portfolio, setting the level of tariffs, etc.

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Box 3.6. California’s Water Plan, building a shared vision for the future

The California Water Plan is the state’s strategic plan for sustainably managing and developing water resources for current and future generations. The water plan is much more than a document as it provides a forum for elected officials, agencies, California Native American tribes, resource managers, businesses, academia, stakeholders and the public to collaboratively develop findings and recommendations that inform decisions about water policies, actions and investments. The California Water Plan is a key tool for strengthening these partnerships.

Perhaps most importantly, Update 2018 (the 12th in a series of such plans since 1957) prioritises supporting local and regional efforts to build water supply resilience across California. This approach recognises that different regions of the state face different challenges and opportunities, yet all benefit from co-ordinated state support. In April 2019, Governor Newsom signed an executive order calling for state agencies to work together to form a comprehensive strategy for building climate-resilient water systems through the 21st century. Update 2018 is timely as most of the content in the plan can inform this work.A shared vision for California’s water future

Update 2018 presents a vision where all Californians benefit from such desirable conditions as reduced flood risk, more reliable water supplies, reduced groundwater depletion, and greater habitat and species resiliency – all for a more sustainable future. Planning and policy priorities will have a mutual understanding of resource limitations, management deficiencies and shared intent, with a focus on sustainability and actions that result in greater public health and safety; healthy economy; ecosystem vitality; and cultural, spiritual, recreational and aesthetic experiences.

In this vision, investments result in intended outcomes through the application of adaptive management by first focusing and agreeing on the end in mind, then recommending and implementing actions. Learning and adaptation cycles strengthen decision making, maximise return on investment and support proactive management.

Operational definition of sustainability

Update 2018 provides an operational definition of sustainability. Sustainability of California’s water systems means meeting current needs – expressed by water stakeholders as public health and safety, a healthy economy, ecosystem vitality, and opportunities for enriching experiences – without compromising the needs of future generations. This definition is further carried into the Sustainability Outlook, which is a tool or method for tracking local, regional and state actions and investments to assist in guiding investment and policy changes.

Challenges to sustainability facing California

Update 2018 documents the critical challenges that significantly affect California’s ability to manage water resources for sustainability. These include challenges from flood, access to safe clean water and sanitation, declining ecosystems, groundwater overdraft, forest health and wildfires, and the additional strain on all these challenges due to climate change.

Many of these critical challenges have been known for some time. It is more the systemic and institutional challenges that hamper the ability to address these critical challenges. Early investment in resolving the systemic and institutional challenges will pay the largest dividend for California. These systemic challenges fall into several categories:

  • fragmented and non-coordinated initiatives and governance

  • inconsistent and confliction regulations

  • insufficient capacity for data-driven decision making

  • insufficient and unstable funding

  • inadequate performance tracking of state and local investment.

Recommended actions

This plan recommends significant additional investment in infrastructure and ecosystem improvements to overcome challenges to sustainability. It also recommends actions to resolve systemic and institutional issues that contribute to many of California’s water challenges and the ability to resolve them. These actions are organised around the following six goals:

  1. 1. improve integrated river basin management

  2. 2. strengthen resiliency and operational flexibility of existing and future infrastructure

  3. 3. restore critical ecosystem functions

  4. 4. empower California’s under-represented or vulnerable communities

  5. 5. improve inter-agency alignment and address persistent regulatory challenges

  6. 6. support real-time decision making, adaptive management and long-term planning.

These actions will require a USD 90.2 billion investment over 50 years. Of this, USD 77.8 billion is for financial and technical assistance to regional and local entities, USD 9.7 billion for state-managed water infrastructure, and USD 2.7 billion (less than 3%) to resolve systemic and institutional challenges.

Sustainable water management requires alignment and integration among water sectors

The Sustainability Outlook was developed as part of Update 2018 to provide a well-organised and consistent approach for tracking local, regional, and state actions and investments. It is an evolving method of informing the strategic planning and prioritisation of water management actions. This method, or tool, involves evaluating status and trends of conditions within a river basin or region, setting intended outcomes consistent with societal values, and determining whether actual outcomes are consistent with intended outcomes. Through progressive application of the Sustainability Outlook, decision makers should be able to identify needed analytical tools and data gaps, build capacity to take decisions and set priorities, and describe how individual and collective actions have affected the management of water resources for sustainability. The Sustainability Outlook was informed by stakeholder input and initial pilot projects, as described in The Sustainability Outlook: A Summary.

Building on the success of integrated regional water management

California has for many years invested in integrated regional water management (same as the more common integrated water resource management with an emphasis on regional level engagement) and has witnessed many successes as a result. As recommended, most of the work must continue to happen at regional and local scales. Regional agencies and organisations have extensive knowledge of their river basins and communities. To advance regional sustainability, the state government commits to supporting regional water agencies and organisations, and augmenting state investment in regional infrastructure and ecosystems. Approximately 86% of the recommended state funding (approximately USD 78 billion) is to assist and empower local and regional managers to plan, fund, implement and report on their accomplishments.

Over the long term, implementing Update 2018 will strengthen adaptive planning and management through increasingly robust data, knowledge and guidance for effective state policy, priority investments and financing options.

Sources: Contribution by Lewis Moeller, peer -reviewer, California Department of Water Resources (United States).

Plans should foresee short and long-term actions to support their implementation, including practical steps, indicators to monitor progress, and clearly mapping who does what. These roadmaps can be a tool to hold public authorities accountable for the implementation of the programme of measures included in the plans.

Plans should be consistent and co-ordinated with planning in water-related areas, such as environment, agriculture, energy, land use, spatial planning, and infrastructure. Synergies and trade-offs among those sectoral policies should be explicitly assessed, especially between water, land-use and environmental policies. For instance, urban dwellers take decisions that have strong impacts on water management today and in the future and do not always bear the related costs and liabilities. This is especially relevant in a context where the interface between water resources at the river basin scale and land-use management is fragmented because of split competences across provincial and municipal levels in these domains.

Plans should be developed in a bottom-up fashion and engage relevant stakeholders (subnational authorities, service providers, water users, property developers, academics, non-governmental organisations, etc.) to secure the buy-in needed for their implementation:

  • National plans should be co-designed together with provinces to account for territorial differences and to create ownership on the goals set; relevant stakeholders at the national level should also be consulted.

  • Provincial plans should account for territorial differences within the provinces, and engage relevant stakeholders at provincial and local levels.

  • Interjurisdictional plans should engage provinces that are part of the interjurisdictional river basin to reconcile priorities and objectives across provinces.

Plans should promote a shift from the old paradigm of water resources development planning – where the focus was on infrastructure solutions – to strategic basin planning (Table 3.4) that considers the entire water cycle and the basin or river basin as unit of analysis and planning. Strategic basin planning strives to address all types of pressures in the basin (socio-economic, urbanisation, etc.) rather than only in water resources. Water should be integrated in the economy by translating priorities in the plans to sectoral policies and specific investment planning. The core objective of the planning exercise must be sustainable development of the province, with peculiar attention to environmental conservation. Plans should not focus on infrastructure for water resources management, but on the economic, social and environmental performance of the system. They should be realistic and translate into budgetary priorities (i.e. public investment decisions), and enhance clear linkages between water, regional development and land use, particularly in Argentina where these competencies are scattered across national, provincial and municipal levels.

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Table 3.4. Attributes distinguishing technical from strategic basin planning

Water resources development planning

Strategic basin planning

Extent of basin development

Basins with “spare” water available for development and not facing significant environmental pressures

Complex or water-stressed basins requiring difficult trade-offs between economic, social and ecological objectives

Issues of concern

Responding to identified water resources pressures

Responding to broader basin stress and socio-economic pressures

Purpose of basin planning

Reconciliation of water availability or quality with existing development goals: “water for the economy”

Water planning as an integral part of development planning: “water in the economy”



Protection and management

Focus of attention

Water focused: water resources infrastructure systems

Society focused: economic, social and environmental systems supported by the river

Environmental requirement

Threshold levels, in particular water quality

Maintenance of ecosystem goods and services

Key skills in the planning process

Water planner led, with a focus on engineering skills

Co-operation between development, water and environment planners

Analysis techniques

Technical optimisation:

– water resources infrastructure systems analysis

– economic cost-benefit analysis

– water quality assessment

– future water use projections

Economic and environmental scenario:

– integrated water resources systems analysis

– social/economic analysis of water

– strategic environmental assessment

– scenario planning

Source: Adapted from Pegram, G. et al. (2013), River Basin Planning: Principles, Procedures and Approaches for Strategic Basin Planning,

Strengthen basin governance arrangements at all levels of government

Interjurisdictional river basin committees should gradually shift from conflict resolution, with often a single-issue focus, to effective basin planning. Three committees (COIRCO, COREBE, AIC) currently perform key water management responsibilities in their respective basins. Although these committees still lack an integrated planning approach, they appear to be good examples that have gone beyond the purpose of conflict resolution. Other less developed committees should aim to effectively facilitate the implementation of hard or soft measures of mutual benefit for different jurisdictions. The national government could work together with the committees and provinces to further broaden their functions, as appropriate, to promote an integral approach to river basin management.

Interjurisdictional committees could in the medium and long-term become stable and independent institutions promoting an integral vision of water resources management. When possible, interjurisdictional committees should be financially autonomous, collect their own revenues and ensure that their activities cut across political cycles. Financial autonomy will also contribute to investing in governance functions and implementation of the designed plans. There is also room to improve the technical capacity of the committees to perform their functions in an effective and efficient way, in particular to produce, collect and use data and to perform all the necessary technical and administrative duties.

At the provincial level, strengthening the capacity of provincial governments to manage resources at the right scale is critical since most responsibilities to deal with water challenges in Argentina are held at the subnational level. Training and capacity development tailored to the needs of each province could help to link basin plans and budgets, monitor and enforce environmental regulations. A place-based approach is very relevant for Argentina, where the diversity of situations in terms of legal, institutional and policy frameworks are noticeable (see Chapter 2).

Provinces should work with local authorities to strengthen urban river basin governance. Appraising the metropolitan and hydrological logics is key to addressing some of Argentina’s urban water challenges. For instance, the metropolitan area of Córdoba is home to about 1.8 million people, with a radius of approximately 50 kilometres and encompasses 46 individual cities and towns, including the city of Córdoba. These municipalities have responsibilities over land-use planning, providing sanitation services and waste management – all at the core of water pollution problems. Solving pollution issues will require pooling resources from the different municipalities and co-ordinating efforts with the provincial government. A watershed approach could help establish financial schemes to fund measures that tackle the water pollution problematic.

Argentina should support effective basin management practices by sharing and upscaling practices and strengthening the capacities of provinces, thus indirectly also proposing improvements in interjurisdictional river basin committees. In particular, Argentina holds many opportunities to improve basin management by focusing on three fronts: 1) economic instruments; 2) data and information; and 3) stakeholder engagement. Leading research institutes and universities in these fields could also be of great support to help advance provincial practices in these matters.

Design and implement economic instruments as a key policy tool to increase efficiency in water use

The provinces should co-produce together a methodological guidance to design and implement economic instruments that are fit to places, adapted to local needs and promote efficient use of water resources. This could be very beneficial to the actual implementation of the polluter-pays and beneficiary-pays principles to ensure that those who generate future liabilities or benefit from resources also bear the related costs. Such guidance should focus on:

  • Increasing awareness of different sectors about climate and water risks and documenting the willingness-to-pay for adaptation measures. Sectors such as industry, tourism and agriculture should be sensitised about the impact of water scarcity on their respective activities and the cost of inaction. There is a range of options for incremental approaches to the use of economic instruments, but often users’ willingness to pay goes with awareness on water risks in the short and medium term.

  • Producing reliable and updated information: Affordability studies and economic analyses should be carried out to assess users’ capacity to pay based on tangible data and projections, and different methodologies.

  • Providing different options for tariff design: Different options to compute tariffs related to polluter-pays and beneficiary-pays principles should be included.

However, it should also be noted that not all provinces may have the potential to collect water charges. In provinces where the legal framework is not in place, a legal reform should be a pre-requisite. In provinces where the legal framework exists but water charges have not yet been implemented, political buy-in would first be needed.

Develop an integrated water resources information system

A significant step forward to effectively guide water-related decision making in Argentina would be to stablish a platform to collect data from the provinces in a harmonised manner and to debate and decide upon a common pool of indicators that can serve to set up the water resources information system. The National Hydrological Network (RHN) would be a good starting point since it already gathers hydrological-related data, and counts the participation of some provinces. A way forward could be to complement the scope of the RHN for it to become an integrated water resources information system. First, the RHN could produce more socio-economic data and information related to economic instruments, the price of water according to water uses, agricultural production and water use, economic analysis on the impact of water-related decisions, investments on water infrastructure, etc. Second, it could disaggregate data and information at different scales and levels of government (interjurisdictional basins, provinces, provincial basins and municipalities). Third, it could provide real-time data and information that can guide the activities of water stakeholders.

Other existing databases in Argentina could then be integrated into the newly set up information system, such as the Digital Cartography and Georeferenced Systems project initiated by the SIPH, or the Climate Change Risk Map System (SIMARCC) initiated by the SAyDS, which helps identify territories and population that are most vulnerable to the threats of climate change. To achieve this, the SIPH would have to work closely with other line ministries with water-related competences as well as with other federal councils.


ACUMAR (2019a), “Mapas de la Cuenca”, ACUMAR, (accessed in June 2019).

ACUMAR (2019b), “Institucional”, (accessed in June 2019).

Andino, M.M. (2016), “El Régimen Jurídico de la Financiación del Agua en Argentina. Un Estudio Comparado de Tributos Hídricos”, thesis, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Ministry of Agroindustry, Buenos Aires.

Berardo, R., T. Olivier and M. Meyer (2013), “Adaptive governance and integrated water resources management in Argentina”, International Journal of Water Governance, Vol. 1/3-4, pp. 219-236,

Bergez, M.F. (2008), “El federalismo ambiental en Argentina: El caso de los recursos hídricos inter-jurisdiccionales”, thesis, University of San Andrés.

Chief of Cabinet (2019), “Unidad Plan Belgrano”, webpage, (consulted in June 2019).

COHIFE (2019), “Representantes jurisdiccionales”, webpage, (accessed in June 2019).

COHIFE (2006), “Reglamento resolución para la solución amistosa de controversias en aguas inter-jurisdiccionales”, Federal Water Council,

COHIFE (2003), “Principios Rectores de Política Hídrica”, Federal Water Council,

Deraiopian, D.F. (2016), “El canon de agua en Argentina: Análisis comparativo de la región Centro y Litoral”, thesishttp://

FADA-IARH (2015), “El agua en la gestión de gobierno”, Foro Argentino del Agua,

Foro Argentino del Agua/SIPH (2017), Argentina: Baseline of Indicator 6.5.1 Integrated Water Resources Management, Version 2017.

MCTeIP (2012), “Núcleo Socio-Productivo Estratégico: Recursos Hídricos”, Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Buenos Aires,

Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (2019), “Plan Nacional de Riego y Drenaje”, webpage, (consulted in June 2019).

National Presidency Report (2017), “Diagnóstico sobre ciudades y desarrollo urbano – Argentina 2030”,

OECD (2016), Water Governance in Cities, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2015a), Stakeholder Engagement for Inclusive Water Governance, OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2015b), “Total renewable freshwater resources per capita, long-term annual average values”, in: Environment at a Glance 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Padin Goodall, A.C. (2015), “El canon de agua en Argentina: Análisis comparativo de la región Patagónica y Cuyo”, thesis

Pegram, G. et al. (2013), River Basin Planning: Principles, Procedures and Approaches for Strategic Basin Planning, UNESCO, Paris,

Pochat, V. (2005), “Entidades de Gestión del Agua a Nivel de Cuencas: Experiencia de Argentina”, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Santiago,

Province of Salta (1998), Provincial Law No. 7017 “Water Code of Salta”,

Province of San Luis (2011), “Plan Maestro de Agua”,

Reta, J. (2003), “Argentina (provincia de Mendoza)”, in Garduño, H. et al., Administración de Derechos de Agua: Experiencias, Asuntos Relevantes y Lineamientos, Food and Agriculture Organization,

Rodríguez, A. and N. Dardis (2011), “Recursos Hídricos: República Argentina 2011”, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Mx.

Rotger, D.V. (2018), “Gestión de cuencas en la Región Metropolitana de Buenos Aires: Historia y actualidad de un territorio en conflicto ambiental. El caso del Gran La Plata”, Cuaderno Urbano, Vol. 24/24, pp. 7-26.

SAyDS (2019), “Río Salí Dulce”, webpage, (consulted in June 2019).

SIPH (2016), “Plan Nacional de Agua”, Ministry of the Interior, Public Works and Housing, Buenos Aires,

copy the linklink copied!Annex 3.A. Case study: Province of Mendoza

copy the linklink copied!Key facts and features

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Box 3.A.1. Key data for the province of Mendoza, Argentina
  • The province of Mendoza is located in the western part of Argentina, neighbouring Chile. The capital is the city of Mendoza. The province counts six important river basins (Mendoza, Tunuyán, Diamante, Atuel, Malargüe, and Grande and Colorado).

  • Population: 1 774 737 (2010), of which 80.87% in urban areas and 19.13% in rural areas.

  • The province of Mendoza is an arid and semi-arid region with three oasis (North, Centre and South) that occupy 3.5% of the province and concentrate around 90% of socio-economic activity.

  • The province has an average annual rainfall of about 220 mm, with strong variability between the northeast (100 mm per year) and the southeast (400 mm per year).

The province is famous worldwide for its viticulture production, accounting for 70% of national production. Other important activities with implications for water management include mining (14% of national petroleum reserves), industry (wine-related industry, petroleum refinery, etc.) and tourism (700 000 visitors per year).

The semi-desertic province of Mendoza suffers pronounced water deficit and conflicts over water use with social and economic consequences. The province is the fifth largest contributor to national GDP. Its economy is highly dependent on agricultural activity (560 000 irrigated hectares, 25% of total national irrigated land) that accounts for 94% of water use (DGI, 2016). Mining, another water-intensive sector, is also very important for provincial economic performance (around 20% of provincial GDP) and holds implications on water quality. High water demands and natural factors (i.e. aridity, large irrigated surface, low precipitations and flow rates, high evapotranspiration rate, pronounced water deficit) result in a severe structural water deficit. Moreover, climate change is expected to put more pressure on existing resources. The average temperature of the province is expected to increase, resulting in reductions in water flows of 10-13% in the Mendoza, Tunuyán, Diamante and Atuel river basins by 2050 (SAyDS, 2015).

copy the linklink copied!Legal framework

The province of Mendoza is a pioneer in the national landscape in terms of water institutional and legal frameworks. It passed the country’s first water law in 1884. This law created a dedicated water agency, the General Department of Irrigation (DGI), with full responsibilities for water management. The provincial Constitution acknowledged in 1894 the decentralised nature of the DGI, which was ratified in the provincial Constitution of 1916, currently in force.

An overview of Mendoza’s legal framework:

  • General Water Law (1884): It is the main water norm of the province. It outlines priorities in water use, regulates operation of channels, establishes control mechanisms and taxation, provides instruments for water quality preservation, and defines the internal structure of the DGI.

  • General Management of Surface Water Law 322 (1904): Delineates the administrative structure of the DGI, creating its internal bodies and special administrative procedures. It also defines rules to control the accounts of water users associations (WUAs).

  • Provincial Constitution (1916): Devotes a full chapter to water rights and water resources management. In particular, the provincial Constitution sets forth responsibilities of water users in water resources management.

  • Groundwater Laws 4.035 and 4.036 (1974): Establish the general framework conditions for the use of groundwater, including defining groundwater sources and the scope of application for the laws, establishing requirements for groundwater users rights registration, and regulating concessions.

  • Regime for Elections in Water Users Organisation Law 5.302 (1988): Regulates the processes for electing representatives in the WUAs.

  • Environmental Law 5.961 (1992): Provides policy tools and instruments to promote the preservation, conservation and improvement of the environment, including aquatic ecosystems.

  • Institutional Rearrangement of the Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Services and Water Quality Protection Law 6.044 (1993): In the framework of this law, Resolution 778/96 establishes water quality control.

  • Water Users Organisations Law 6.405 (1996): Sets the internal organisation and processes that must be followed by the WUAs, including the electoral process, budgeting, auditing, etc.

  • Regulation for Special Restricted Crops Areas (ACRE) Resolution 400 of the Honourable Administrative Tribunal (2003): Regulates the creation of special areas where wastewater can be reused for irrigation.

  • Law Territorial and Land-Use Planning 8.051 (2009) and Provincial Territorial and Land-Use Plan 8.999 (2017): Provide a common understanding of land-use objectives, concepts and tools, and, with respect to water, aims to protect aquatic ecosystems from uncontrolled land-use practices.

The long-standing legal framework in Mendoza has resulted in a well-established water resources management system, with distinct features, characteristics and instruments, which make it unique in the Argentinian context (Box 3.A.2). A unique feature of Mendoza’s water management system is the engagement of non-state actors in the management of water infrastructure. The WUAs are responsible for the operation and maintenance of secondary and tertiary channel systems.

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Box 3.A.2. Overview of Mendoza’s water management features


  • Water is public and its use requires a permit or concession.

  • “Inherence principle”: water rights based on ownership of the land.

  • The system has priorities in water use following this order: domestic supply, agriculture, energy, industrial, environment, recreational.

  • The assignment of new rights is without prejudice to third parties.

  • Public and open registry of water users.

  • Government can define water reserves and restrict water use to implement measures against pollution.

  • Water rights are not transferable among individuals.

  • It is mandatory to obtain permission for the use of water and the discharge of effluents.


  • Unique and decentralised administration by the General Department of Irrigation (DGI; see Box 3.A.3).

  • Administrative procedures to process permits and rights.

  • Management mechanisms to control possible abuse of the law.

  • Co-ordination of water policy between the public sector and users organisations.

  • Basin management through water subdelegations that depend on the DGI.


  • Water charge differentiated by water source and use.

  • Self-financing of users organisations.

  • Budget autonomy of the DGI.


  • Users are organised in water users associations (WUAs), which are integrated by users of the same irrigation channel.

  • Users have the faculty to choose their representatives and manage their own resources.

  • Public hearings for information-sharing and collecting opinions or concerns about projects of large public interest. It is a mechanism widely used for environmental impact projects, as well as to set restrictions of water withdrawal in aquifers.

  • Basin councils co-ordinate decision making and manage conflicts across water uses.

Source: Adapted from Reta, J. (2003), “Argentina (provincia de Mendoza)”,

copy the linklink copied!Institutional framework

The province of Mendoza has a well-established institutional framework for water management. The provincial institutional landscape is composed of the DGI, as an executive and management body of the primary irrigation network (rivers, springs, dikes, dams and main channels), and the WUAs, as operational bodies of the secondary and tertiary irrigation network (distribute water from the main channels to the users’ intake).

The DGI is the key actor in water management in the province of Mendoza. Its core function is to supply water for domestic and productive use, while ensuring sustainable, efficient, transparent and inclusive management. To achieve this, it has full competence over water resources management, including preservation, distribution and regulation of water in the natural environment as well as in channels. The DGI is financially autonomous from the provincial government. It has autonomy to approve its own budget, define and collect revenues, and is ultimately responsible to ensure its own economic and financial sustainability. The DGI has a well-defined internal structure that also leaves space for water users to participate (Box 3.A.3).

The provincial Secretary of Environment and Territorial Development has the mandate to ensure environmental quality in the province, including of natural resources. In 2017, in co-ordination with other ministries, it designed the provincial Territorial and Land-use Plan that, among others, establishes basic guidelines to ensure co-ordination among the different public actors whose portfolio has a direct or indirect impact on water resources.

Water users associations (WUAs) hold a crucial role for water management in Mendoza. As foreseen in the Water Law, management of irrigation channels is under the responsibility of users associations. WUAs are non-governmental public associations constituted by all holders of water rights that irrigate through the same channel. WUAs are regulated by Laws 5.302 (1988) and 6.405 (1996). The inspector manages the WUAs, which entails managing operation and maintenance of the channel system, controlling delivery of water to users and managing funds that users pay for water charges. S/he also is a first-line judge for water conflicts that may arise among users within his/her association. The Users Assembly is responsible for determining the water charge users should pay for operation, maintenance, etc.; authorising and budgeting minor works; and controlling the inspector’s activities to prevent irregularities. More recently, WUAs have established second-level organisations. These are voluntary associations of WUAs sharing common interests and objectives. Lastly, the DGI supervises that WUAs comply with the obligations defined in Law 6.405. For instance, elections to appoint a new inspector are organised by the outgoing inspector under the supervision of the Honorable Administrative Tribunal of the DGI. There are 143 WUAs and 17 second-level WUAs in Mendoza.

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Box 3.A.3. Internal organisation of the General Department of Irrigation
  • The General Irrigation Superintendent is the highest executive and technical authority of the General Department of Irrigation (DGI). S/he is appointed by the provincial government for a five-year term. To relieve the DGI from political pressure, this term purposefully differs from the four-year term of the government. The Superintendent is responsible for the management of natural rivers and streams and controls the administration of manmade (irrigation and drainage) channel systems. All requests for public water use concessions have to be submitted to the Superintendent.

  • The Honorary Appeal Council (HAC) was established through the provincial Constitution and is regulated by Law 322 of 1905. The council has five members, each of them representing the water users in one of the five major river basins. The council is the second-line court for matters pertaining to public water distribution and use. It handles appeals on rulings by the Superintendent and by inspectors of the WUAs. If its rulings are not considered acceptable, an appeal can be filed before the Supreme Court of Justice of Mendoza, which is the only and last legal resort in this matter.

  • The Honorary Administrative Tribunal (HAT) was established through Law 322 (Article 26). It is entrusted with the following responsibilities: draft the DGI’s internal bylaws and other bylaws imposing rights or obligations on water users, appoint and remove all employees of the DGI, approve the annual budget, set the level of water charges, approve the election of authorities managing WUAs, and grant groundwater use concessions.

  • The DGI has water subdelegations in each of the most important rivers of the province (Mendoza, Tunuyán Inferior, Tunuyán Superior, Diamante and Atuel) and in the Malargüe irrigation zone. Subdelegates are officials hierarchically dependent of the Superintendent, who exercise the administration of each particular river holding similar to those of the Superintendent.

Checks and balances are in place since the Superintendent, HAC and HAT control each others’ activities: every year the Superintendent presents the general accounts to the HAT; the HAC controls the executive decisions of the Superintendent through appeals; and the HAT, since it is formed by the Superintendent and the HAC, is an accountability body for both.

Sources: De Llanos, M.E.A. and M.G. Bos (1997), “The legal and administrative setting for the use of water resources in Mendoza, Argentina”,; Pinto M., M. Andino and G. Rogero (2019), Ley General de Aguas comentada y concordada.

Basin councils are consultative bodies that do not take any binding decisions. The six councils (one for each river basin) were created by the DGI (Resolution 681 in 2012) and their main objective is to promote consensus among different actors involved in water resources management. Members of the councils are representatives of relevant public bodies, provincial legislators, municipalities, channel inspections, business chambers, among others. Councils must meet at least twice a year (DGI, 2016).

copy the linklink copied!Key water resources governance challenges


The 2020 provincial Water Plan, which was developed in 2012, had a strong focus on agriculture (a specific water use) and thus does not respond to long-term environmental, economic and social objectives. The Plan was developed in co-operation with a Scientific and Technical Advisory Board composed of representatives from 7 universities, 13 research institutes, 5 provincial ministries, and more than 100 experts and 50 irrigation professionals. Although the design of the plan followed a multi-stakeholder process, –there was no direct enforcement in the consequent years.

Uncontrolled urban development has an impact on water management in Mendoza. Uncontrolled urban development can be observed in the Metropolitan Area of Mendoza (MAM). The MAM, located in the North Oasis of the province, is the largest urban centre, with 1 086 633 inhabitants (representing 68% of total provincial population, in only 0.16% of its territory) (INDEC, 2019). In the MAM, although population growth was 18% between 1990 and 2011, the urbanised area increased over 40% in that same period. For instance, in 1976, the department of Guaymallén had 3 500 ha urbanised, while today it is close to 8 000 ha (118% increase) (Mesa and Guisso, 2014). The land-use change from irrigated land to urbanised land comes with a change of the price for water (the user starts paying drinking water instead of irrigation water). However, many of the urban developments are gated communities, where the main water use is the irrigation of gardens and users do not really bear related costs.

Mendoza is the first province in the country to have issued a provincial land-use plan, the Provincial Territorial and Land-use Plan (Law 8.999 in 2017), where water features prominently due to the large impacts that urbanisation has on the water system. Out of the plan’s seven priority areas, two are closely related to water: 1) Objective 4: Mitigate the deterioration of the environment by managing risks associated with natural and anthropic threats while responding to the challenges of climate change adaptation; 2) Objective 7: Promote integrated management of water resources as a strategic element for territorial planning, ensuring water resources preservation, fostering use efficiency, and guaranteeing access for human consumption and productive activities.

Lastly, the approval of a Drought Management Plan is currently under debate in the legislative chamber. The plan aims to minimise the negative effects of droughts on urban water supply and economic activities. The core approach is to establish a system of indicators setting thresholds defining the intensity of droughts in each hydrographic and hydrogeological basin of the province. The plan then specifies concrete actions for each of the different water uses (Box 3.A.4.).

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Box 3.A.4. Mendoza’s Drought Management Plan

The Drought Management Plan aims to minimise social, environmental and economic impacts of droughts in the province. It seeks to foster a cultural change in two ways:

  • Raise awareness among the population on the structural water stress faced by the province of Mendoza.

  • Promote efficiency at all fronts on water resources management.

The plan includes the following items:

  • Description of basins, sub-basins and territorial units, including a water resources inventory, water uses and vulnerabilities in the basin.

  • Record of historical droughts and climate change forecast.

  • System of baseline indicators that alerts and characterises droughts episodes (Normal, Alert, Critical scenario)

  • Diagnosis of different drought scenarios

  • Actions and measures to be applied according to the scenarios

  • Protocols for disclosing public information.

  • Criteria for preparing post-drought reports.

  • Tools to monitor and review the plan.

The Drought Management Plan proposes policy tools to transition from crisis management to risk management in different drought scenarios. These include:

  • Restricting water uses with lower rank of water rights.

  • Use of water resources reallocation mechanisms.

  • Minimising losses in water supply networks.

  • Mandatory installation of metering devices in large and medium users supply networks.

  • Promote more actions to increase efficiency in intra-plantation level

  • Intensify water quality control measures.

  • Volumetric delivery of water

Source: Province of Mendoza (2019), Proyecto de ley: Lineamientos para un Plan Provincial de Sequía, , (accessed on September 2019)

Water rights

A first characteristic of Mendoza’s water rights system lies in the legal distinction of permanent and eventual concessions. The General Water Law classifies concessions as “permanent” (those that already existed before the Water Law was passed in 1884) or “eventual” (those that were awarded after the Water Law was passed) (Box 3.A.5). Water quotas associated to permanent concessions have to be supplied at any time, whereas eventual concessions are provided once permanent concessions have been satisfied. Thus, if water availability does not allow the delivery of the full endowment associated with eventual concessions (in practice 1.5 litres/second/hectare due to the permanent state of water scarcity in Mendoza), surpluses are divided by the number of hectares and the resulting flow is assigned as appropriate. Concessions can be complemented with “summer backing”, and its main purpose is to reallocate water surplus in rich hydrological years.

The second characteristic is the existence of water permits. These rights are only valid for a certain period of time, granted by administrative act of the Superintendent, and are revocable. The volume of allocation depends on availability after permanent and eventual concessions are supplied. A distinction can be made between “precarious” rights (granted for ten years) and temporary ones (one year). Similarly, groundwater permits are only granted if the DGI determines that the groundwater source has a “healthy status”.

The water rights system in Mendoza often discourages long-term investments and, ultimately, limits efficiency gains. The above water rights scheme results in a system where 40% of all water rights are either limited by volume (eventual concessions) or are temporary and precarious. The latter results in difficulty to finance long-term investments in improving channels, irrigation systems, etc., due to uncertainty. In fact, it is estimated that the overall water system has a low efficiency (35% on average for consumptive use) (Reta, 2003).

Moreover, water concessions are not tradable between individuals, but are subject to re-appropriation and re-assignment through the DGI. Users can give up a water concession for a minimum period of 3 and up to 12 months. The concession can then be assigned to another user or another water use by the DGI. This transfer act should be publicly registered in the Water Registry. If new infrastructure is necessary to benefit from the concession, it is the responsibility of the new user to cover the costs (e.g. intakes, channels, etc.). The criteria or analysis for deciding which user benefits from the concession re-assignment is not clear.

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Box 3.A.5. Water rights in the province of Mendoza
  • Permanent concession: Existing rights prior to the General Water Law in 1884. The law compelled all irrigated landowners to register the number of irrigated hectares, and formalise the corresponding right. This right must be supplied at all times and has a perpetual character.

  • Eventual concession: After pre-existing rights to the General Water Law were formalised, anyone willing to make use of public water has to apply for a concession, which is granted by the competent authority. No new concessions are granted to the detriment of pre-existing rights. “Eventual” concessions are served once “permanent” concessions have been supplied.

  • Private right: Includes private waters whose flow starts and ends within the same property. The registration of this right is voluntary and is not subject to taxes.

  • Permit: Only valid for a certain period of time (“precarious” are granted for ten years, “temporary” for one year), granted by administrative act of the Superintendent, and revocable. The volume of allocation depends on availability after permanent and eventual concessions are supplied.

  • Groundwater permit: Granted with preference to users who already have some type of surface water concession. The General Department of Irrigation grants the permit for perforating the borehole, and the Honorary Administrative Tribunal grants the permit for using the water. It remains in force until a problem for its use arises (e.g. depletion of the source, deterioration of the quality, etc.).

  • Discharge permit: The discharge permit of effluents of industrial and/or sewage origin is both provisional (valid while it complies with quality standards) and temporary (maximum validity is two years, with the option of renewal).

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Figure 3.A.1. Water rights in the province of Mendoza
Figure 3.A.1. Water rights in the province of Mendoza

Lastly, outside official water rights, informal water uses distort the system. This occurs in two ways in the western region of Argentina (including in the provinces of Mendoza, Catamarca, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta and San Juan). First, water abstraction with important economic significance but that does not hold an official water right. The lack of formalisation can lead to a complete absence of integrated water resources management, making it difficult for public authorities to determine the relation between supply and demand, and the social needs in order to prioritise public agendas. Second, reallocation of water, from one user to another, outside the formal mechanisms regulated by the law. These reallocations do not generally seek the development of crops on properties that lack water rights, but rather reinforce water availability through the temporary reallocation of water between users (Martin and Pinto, 2015).

Economic instruments

Water charges in Mendoza do not really help achieve efficiency and equity principles. In Mendoza, the economic value of water is not acknowledged, and water does not have a real and efficient price. This leads to two negative effects: on the one hand, the over-exploitation of the resource and, on the other, inequality in its use (greater consumption and management of water resources of a few users over the others) (Andino, 2015). Water charges are not promoting efficiency and equity for two main reasons:

  1. 1. Water charges recover costs of water resources management, but do not set any economic or environmental incentives. The DGI’s financial autarchy requires that water users cover the cost of any service related to the management of the resource. Moreover, a “self-financing” criterion is prevalent in Mendoza, which implies that the level of the tariff should be just sufficient enough to ensure that the DGI and WUAs obtain sufficient resources to cover the expenses necessary for its operations. Thus, water charges are not based on the value of water as an economic good, but are defined according to the cost of the service of providing water for irrigation and other uses. Charges have a purely fiscal nature without any incentive (Andino, 2015).

  2. 2. The actual (low) level of water charges does not provide incentives for promoting efficiency nor reducing pollution. For abstraction charges, the level of the tariff is calculated based on the surface area of the concession (Box 3.A.6). This does not promote efficiency for two reasons. First, it does not encourage reducing water use since the amount paid does not depend on real consumption. Second, it does not incorporate other factors such as technology (e.g. trickle irrigation), thus not encouraging water-savings. Similarly, charges for discharging effluents do not encourage pollution reduction. A fixed annual amount is paid depending on the type of activity (agriculture, manufacturing, oil and mining, etc.), being significantly higher for the oil and mining industry. Thus, the payment does not depend on the quality of the water discharged (i.e. type and concentration of pollutants) and there are no incentives to discharge less pollutants.

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Box 3.A.6. Water abstraction charges in the province of Mendoza

The level of the water charge is set annually by the water authority. For the calculation of the charge, the only costs considered are those related to water provision and to controlling and collecting the revenues. For this, Mendoza uses the “zoning system”, whereby each zone (which have been defined following a basin approach) must, or should, absorb the costs of management activities and infrastructure in that particular zone. The service in each zone is considered homogeneous; for example, in the case of agricultural use, each hectare registered in the same zone will pay the same amount for the service received. Thus, the costs of water management activities and infrastructure are divided by the total number of hectares with water rights. Then, there are two key criteria for defining the level of the charge:

  1. 1. Water source: For surface water, the price is fixed per hectare, while the fee for groundwater is taxed in relation to the diameter of the pipe in the borehole. For effluent discharge, the price is fixed by volume (m3).

  2. 2. Water use: The DGI has established different coefficients that are multiplied by the charge defined by water source. Agricultural use has a coefficient of “1”, domestic use “5.781” and industrial use “1.5”. For hydroelectricity, a percentage of the value of the energy generated is charged and for mineral water or petroleum activities volumetric charges apply.

Sources: Padin Goodall, A.C. (2015), “El canon de agua en Argentina: Análisis comparativo de la región Patagónica y Cuyo”,; Andino, M.M. (2015), “Régimen jurídico de la financiación del agua en argentina. Con especial referencia al caso de la provincia de mendoza”,

Lastly, the lack of metering and very low tariffs for drinking water supply are largely responsible for the irrational and high consumption by domestic households. Over 92% of customers in the Metropolitan Area of Mendoza pay a tariff calculated through a fixed system based on cadastral information rather than the actual volumes of drinking water they consume (i.e. a system known as “canilla libre”) (Comellas, 2018). This type of tariff structure does not create any incentive for rational consumption since the tariff is dissociated from the volume actually consumed. In Mendoza, a semi-arid province with structural scarcity issues, the domestic consumption is estimated around 400 litres per person per day (AySAM, 2019), way above the international recommendation of 250 litres per person per day. A persistent challenge is the lack of water consumption data in the Metropolitan Area of Mendoza. It is reported that currently only 8% of water services connections have micrometering. The “Strategic Plan of Water and Sanitation Mendoza 2016-2022” foresees an investment of USD 122 million to install micrometres in 800 000 connections. To date, this initiative is stalled.


Water Registry is a key tool for managing water resources in Mendoza, since it provides updated and reliable information related to formal land tenure, water uses and rights, however remaining challenges relate to information on informal water uses. Any changes of status in water rights (modifications, renewals, revocations or withdrawals) should be instantly registered. Moreover, the province has been working since 2002 on a “Cadastral and Registry Information System” (SICAR), a georeferenced inventory based on a cadastral and alphanumeric plot, and data in the Water Registry. The purpose of the SICAR is to evaluate existing rights and simulate future hydrological and socio-economic scenarios. However, a grey area is the analysis and diagnosis of informal water rights, both for informal water intakes as well as reallocation mechanisms among users, which impedes public authorities from gaining a full picture of the water system.

There is a lack of data on economic and financial aspects to underpin the need to revisit tariffs. As in the rest of the country, tariff levels do not reflect operating and maintenance costs levels. The lack of metering level (both for production and distribution) in AySAM does not contribute to promote an efficient use of the resource.

copy the linklink copied!Policy recommendations

The province of Mendoza has a very sophisticated water resources management system, but to be fit for the future some of the existing instruments need to be updated and new tools need to be implemented. Mendoza’s legal framework, which dates back to 1884, has laid down clear rules of the game that cover all relevant aspects of water management. The province has well-established institutions with a long tradition in water resources management. The DGI has the technical knowledge to manage a complex network of channels, and also has the legitimacy achieved over the last 130 years. However, the province is now at a crossroad. Climate change impacts in the hydrological cycle are reducing the availability of water resources and changing flow regimes, which in an already semi-arid province will require strong adaptation measures. Not taking the necessary measures today can have dramatic consequences in the medium and long term.

Mendoza must adopt an integrated water policy that triggers efficiency on many fronts and in all water uses (agriculture, urban supply, industry, etc.). Water is a scarce resource in the province (just 1.620 m3/inhabitants/year), but current incentives are misplaced to ensure it is used in the most efficient manner. Adjusting these incentives will require undertaking efforts to improve water planning, update the legal framework, improve data and information systems, and design economic instruments that promote behavioural change.

Planning should be a powerful tool to co-ordinate water-related sectors in Mendoza, and set long-term adaptation goals to climate change. Mendoza should promote a shift from sectoral planning to strategic basin planning. Strategic basin planning should strive to address all types of pressures in the six basins (socio-economic development, urbanisation, pollution, etc.) rather than only focusing on water resources supply and demand. Plans should not focus on infrastructure for water resources management only, but on the economic, social and environmental performance of the system. The core objective of the planning exercise must be sustainable development of the province, with peculiar attention to environmental conservation. The basin plans should enhance clear linkages between water (both water resources management and water services provision), regional development and land use, even more so in Mendoza where uncontrolled urbanisation has generated a loss of agricultural land and put more pressure on the water system. The experience of the Territorial and Land-Use Plan could be used as the starting point to promote a Water Plan that includes all water-related sectors and sets the priorities to face water challenges now and in the future. Moreover, water reuse could be further explored alongside increased wastewater treatment in the province. Currently, Mendoza recycles 37% of the water supplied to domestic users (of the 10 000 litres per second that are treated in the province, 3 700 litres per second are recovered for irrigation in special restricted crops areas).

Updating some aspects of the legal framework could provide more flexibility and additional tools to face recurrent droughts in Mendoza. This should aim at creating a robust water allocation system that can make the most of economic development opportunities, protect the environment and promote the equitable use of water. This will require allocating water resources over the long term; having flexibility to make seasonal (or exceptional) adjustments to the amount of water available to different users; and promoting the sustainable management of both surface and groundwater sources. For this to happen, some flexibility is needed for permanent concessions, which are inherent to the land and granted for life. Mendoza could consider a legal figure of inherence to the water user to ease transfers of rights within the same basin. Similarly, the perpetuity of rights provides stability to many users today, but climatic trends threaten its relevance over time. Lastly, Mendoza could consider granting water the same legal status regardless of its source (surface, groundwater, reuse water, etc.). This would support the transition to a system where each user has a water quota in only one right (regardless of the source), and not a new right for each different source. The current system of accumulation of precarious rights in the same land could be one of the reasons for the low efficiency in water use.

Mendoza should redesign economic instruments to promote behavioural change of water users and foster water use efficiency. A well-designed water charge drives the behaviour of water users: abstraction charges promote water use efficiency and pollution charges make pollution costly and promote clean technologies and practices. Several steps could be taken in this direction. First, reinventing the concept of water charge in Mendoza, i.e. shifting from the cost-recovery to the behavioural change instrument. Second, reconsidering the zoning system by applying more targeted design criteria that make users understand the cost of water management related to their activities. Third, changing the criteria for defining the level of the tariff. For water abstraction charges, the province could shift design criteria from surface to volumetric criteria (also considering crop-specific criteria in agriculture). This would apply to both abstraction charges as well as household water services tariffs. Discharge of effluents charges should also focus on the contaminants of the water rather than be fixed by water use.

Lastly, there is a need to improve the production of data and information concerning who, where and how water is being used. Designing economic instruments requires a good understanding of how water is used and valued by users. Without a solid knowledge and information base, any assessment of needs, efficiency and effectiveness of economic instruments will remain subjective. Making sure the Water Registry and the “Cadastral and Registry Information System” (SICAR) are up to date is an important task that should be further pursued. This information should also be made public to ensure the transparency of the system and hold decision makers and users accountable for water use. In addition, work remains to map, identify and quantify informal water uses in the province of Mendoza. It is claimed that informal intakes of water and reallocation mechanisms between users are of economic importance for the province; however, they remain outside the radar of public authorities. Similarly, triggering efficiency in domestic water consumption requires transitioning faster to the implementation of the micro-metering programme foreseen in the “Strategic Plan of Water and Sanitation Mendoza 2016-2022”. It is imperative to start reporting water consumption levels by households and drive rational use. This is a key step no only in terms of water savings (which actually will be smaller than any savings that can be achieved in agricultural use), but to raise awareness among the society of the value of water, and the need to preserve it now and in the future.


Andino, M.M. (2015), “Régimen jurídico de la financiación del agua en argentina. Con especial referencia al caso de la provincia de Mendoza”,

AySAM (2019), “AM educativo”, accessed on 21 August 2019, available at:

Comellas, E.A. (2018), “La eficiencia económica del sistema catastral de cobro del agua potable en el Gran Mendoza”, IFRH 2018 – 4to Encuentro de Investigadores en Formación en Recursos Hídricos,

De Llanos, M.E.A. and M.G. Bos (1997), “The legal and administrative setting for the use of water resources in Mendoza, Argentina”, Irrigation and Drainage Systems, Vol. 11/4, pp. 323-335,

DGI (2016), “Aquabook”, General Department of Irrigation,

INDEC (2019), “Censo Nacional de Población, Hogares y Viviendas (1991-2001-2010)”, oficial website, (consulted in May 2019)

Martin, L. and M. Pinto (2015), “Mecanismos informales de asignación y reasignación de aguas públicas e ineficacia del derecho en el oeste árido argentino”, Revista Ambiente & Água, Vol. 10/2, pp. 338-349,

Mesa, N.A. and C.M. Giusso (2014), “La urbanización del Piedemonte Andino del Área Metropolitana de Mendoza, Argentina: Vulnerabilidad y segmentación social como ejes del conflicto, Revista Iberoamericana de Urbanismo, Vol. 11, pp. 63-77,

Padin Goodall, A.C. (2015), “El canon de agua en Argentina: Análisis comparativo de la región Patagónica y Cuyo”, thesis

Pinto M., M. Andino and G. Rogero (2019), “Ley General de Aguas comentada y concordada”,

Province of Mendoza (2019), “Proyecto de ley: Lineamientos para un Plan Provincial de Sequía”, , (accessed on September 2019)

Reta, J. (2003), “Argentina (provincia de Mendoza)”, in Garduño, H. et al., Administración de Derechos de Agua: Experiencias, Asuntos Relevantes y Lineamientos, Food and Agriculture Organization,

SAyDS (2015), “Tercera Comunicación Nacional de la República Argentina a la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas Sobre el Cambio Climático”, webpage,

copy the linklink copied!Annex 3.B. Case study: Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquen and Negro River Basin (AIC)

copy the linklink copied!Key facts and features

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Box 3.B.1. Key data for the Limay, Neuquén and Rio Negro Negro River Basin
  • The Limay, Neuquén and Rio Negro River Basin is located in the northern part of the Patagonian Region. It extends over an area of 140 000 km² (5% of the national surface), covering the entire province of Neuquén and partially the provinces of Río Negro and Buenos Aires. The basin hosts a population of 874 000 inhabitants.

  • The Neuquén and Limay Rivers, with an average flow of 280 m3/s and 650 m3/s, respectively, are tributaries of the Negro River (930 m3/s) that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The runoff regimes of the Limay and Neuquén Rivers are pluvio-snow. Most of the precipitation falls in the eastern foothills of the Andes.

  • The basin is a key hub for energy production in Argentina. It has six hydroelectric plants with approximately 5 000 MW installed capacity, representing 15% of the national electricity supply. Moreover, the Neuquén hydrocarbon basin has the largest oil reserves in Argentina, currently contributing 55% of the country’s production of oil and 42.5% of its natural gas. The area also holds 40% of the country’s untapped natural gas.

  • It also has more than 250 000 hectares of irrigated land, predominately producing fruits and vegetables.

The Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquén and Negro River Basins (AIC) is an interjurisdictional body in charge of co-ordinating the administration, control, use and preservation of the three river basins.

The AIC is one of the few successful cases of interjurisdictional basin co-operation across provinces for water resources management in Argentina. The development of large hydraulic projects (dams and reservoirs) and the consequent alteration of riverflows was the origin of the AIC creation back in 1985. Since then, the AIC has been promoting agreements on water resources allocation among the provinces of Buenos Aires, Neuquén and Rio Negro as well as monitoring and controlling the environmental performance of the basin. Following the 1990s, AIC’s responsibilities expanded, as it became the enforcement authority of hydroelectric concession contracts granted in the basin.

Pressures on water resources, mainly due to climate change, as well as environmental degradation, require enhancing the role of the AIC in tackling these challenges and ensuring long-term sustainable development in the basin. The last decade (2008-18) registered an annual flow reduction of up to 30% with respect to the historical river flow series. Recently developed climatic scenarios point to increased water stress in the Comahue Region and a substantial change in the pluvio-snow regime (Forni et al., 2018). This reduction of water availability is likely to increase competition across water uses (hydroelectricity and agriculture). Another concern for the basin is dam safety, in particular related to the capacity of the spillway of the Cerros Colorados Dam on the Neuquén River. In 2006, a flood resulted in water levels at the dam reaching 90% of the design flow for the spillway; exceeding that capacity would have had serious consequences. In addition, the basin is facing water quality issues in different areas, including due to untreated wastewater in the main cities of the basin.

copy the linklink copied!Legal and institutional framework

The development of large infrastructure projects to promote the development of irrigation systems, manage floods and produce hydroelectricity triggered the creation of the AIC in 1985. The construction of the dams Alicurá, Piedra del Águila, Pichi Picún Leufú, El Chocón and Arroyito in the Limay River, and the Cerros Colorados Complex in the Neuquén River, changed the hydrological regime of the river basin, and several conflicts across users and jurisdictions started, particularly in seasons of high and low rainfall, which were not always satisfactorily managed (Pochat, 2005). As a result, in 1985, the governors of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Neuquén and Rio Negro and the national government signed a treaty that established a river basin organisation that could harmonise and co-ordinate water resources management with the core objective to foster regional development (Box 3.B.2). The creation of the AIC was ratified in three provincial laws in 1986 and in a national law in 1990.1 The AIC has representation from the three provinces and the national government (Box 3.B.3).

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Box 3.B.2. Competences delegated by the provinces and the national government to the AIC
  • Conduct studies and research to evaluate water resources in the basin and promote rational use while satisfying provincial demands. There are two major objectives: 1) quantifying water availability in the basin; 2) analysing the potential for expanding water use while preserving the resource.

  • Design and implement a programme for the use and distribution of water resources. The programme has to be ratified through additional treaties between provinces.

  • Ensure provinces comply with the water resources programme. Provinces have the obligation to submit the required information to the AIC to prove compliance.

  • Analyse hydraulic works developed in the basin, their operation and use to inform provinces of the impacts.

  • Ensure the right to information prior to the authorisation of any hydropower development. Thus, the AIC has to be informed if any province is authorising these type of works in their jurisdiction. This implies that the AIC will make sure that the project does not have a negative impact on the other provinces.

  • Conduct studies on natural ecosystems and margins of the river to evaluate the environmental impact of programmes developed in the provinces.

  • Propose technical standards, execute projects, construct and maintain facilities, to detect and control water pollution. While each province preserved legislative power over the environment, it is important to highlight the willingness to harmonise environmental protection norms.

  • Sanction provinces that do not adopt measures to stop pollution.

  • Define the riparian limits of river basins. This delegation of power is a clear example of the willingness to reach consensus, since the definition of the riparian line has always been a source of conflict due to its definition in the Civil Code.

  • Produce and share data and information (meteorological, hydrographic, hydrometric, hydrogeological, environmental, etc.).

Source: AIC (2019a), “Explained competences of the Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquen and Negro River Basins set in the statute”, (accessed in July 2019).

AIC gained significant competences in the 1990s. In a broader wave of privatisation and liberalisation of the Argentinean economy, the national government divided Hidronor, the national company responsible for the exploitation of the hydroelectric plants in the basins, into several “business units”. These units were tendered as concessions to private companies. This resulted in the provinces asking the national government for some control over the operations of the reservoirs (in Argentina, water resources management is the competence of each of the 23 provinces and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires within its jurisdiction, even for interjurisdictional rivers). Through an administrative act (1993), the national government designated the AIC as the enforcement authority of concession contracts. At the time, the AIC was an established legal entity, but was not yet operating, and the assignment of this competence accelerated its implementation. This new function also came with funding – a percentage of revenues from energy generation (1.5%) by the concessionaires was transferred to the AIC. As specified in the act, 1% should be invested in the needed hydraulic works downstream of the dams while the remaining 0.5% should be used to finance the day-to-day activities of the AIC. Altogether, 91% of the AIC’s budget comes from the 1.5% applied to revenues of energy generation; the remaining 9% comes from intellectual services provided to third parties (e.g. studies, research, etc.). As an enforcement authority, the AIC also took over new responsibilities:

  • operate and maintain the hydro-meteorological network and issue hydro-meteorological reports to inform the concessionaires and the jurisdictions

  • design the operational rules of the reservoirs, with the aim to optimise water use and flood protection

  • control concessionaires’ compliance with the clauses of concession contracts related to the execution of hydroelectric works, water management and environmental protection.

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Box 3.B.3. The AIC’s internal structure

The AIC’s internal structure is formed by three bodies:

  1. 1. The Governing Council is comprised of the governors of the three provinces and the national Minister of Interior, Public Works and Housing. The council is presided by the minister. The council sets the AIC’s policy priorities and approves water resources plans, actions and investments in the basin.

  2. 2. The Executive Committee is responsible for the administration of the AIC and is formed by representatives of the provinces and the national government. The members of the Executive Committee are appointed by the respective governments and the presidency rotates on an annual basis.

  3. 3. The Control Entity controls and supervises administrative acts, and is constituted by representatives of the signatory provinces and the national government. It is currently made up of representatives of the General Syndicature of the Nation and the Court of Audits of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Neuquén and Río Negro.

Decisions taken in the Executive Committee are then implemented by the three technical Secretariats of the AIC: Planning and Development, Operational and Inspection, and Environmental Management. Financial and accounting issues are the responsibility of an administrative area.

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Annex Figure 3.B.1. AIC’s internal structure
Annex Figure 3.B.1. AIC’s internal structure

Source: AIC (2019b), “La AIC”, (consulted in July 2019).

copy the linklink copied!Water resources governance challenges


So far, the AIC has mainly focused its actions on co-ordinating water resources development across the three provinces in a context that was that of relative water abundance. During the last three decades, the Limay, Neuquén and Rio Negro River Basin has enjoyed relatively high levels of water availability to promote regional development, while not facing significant environmental pressures. The role of the AIC has been to provide a space for agreement among the three provinces to decide on expanding water use for productive developments. Investments have been targeted to providing the necessary infrastructure to make use of the resource. However, until 2017, there are no references that the AIC or the provinces have developed what the 1985 Treaty required as the “programme for the use and distribution of water resources”. As specified in the treaty, this programme should go beyond deciding on water allocation, to also include an integral study of the basin including environmental, social and economic aspects, as well as current and future water demands.

The lack of integrated long-term planning has resulted in environmental pressures on the ecological status of water bodies and ecosystems in the basin. The basin suffers episodes of water pollution due to untreated urban wastewater. However, the situation has been improving in the last years. A well-known example is the City of Bariloche, in front of the southern border of Lake Nahuel Huapi, where there were water quality point issues related to fast urban growth of the metropolitan area (composed of 12 municipalities) and the lack of capacity of the wastewater treatment plant. The expansion of the wastewater treatment plant of the city was initiated 10 years ago, and is completed to date, to account for this urban growth. Moreover, after ten years of litigation, the province of Rio Negro is also delivering additional measures to solve this challenge (Poder Judicial de la Nación, 2019). Amongst others, a new wastewater treatment plant is under construction.

A strategic shift of AIC towards more integrated planning could help address all of the different types of pressure that exist in the basin (economic and social development, urbanisation, water quality, etc.). Basin planning could help enhance linkages between water, agriculture, industrial and hydroelectric production, navigation, urban development and land use, which could help expanding water services and limiting pollution for untreated domestic wastewater discharges.

Economic instruments

There is a heterogeneous framework for the design and implementation of economic instruments in the basin. Besides the hydroelectric charge that is fixed by the Adminsitrative Act of the Nation and is collected and invested by the AIC, all other water charges are the responsibility of the three provinces forming the basin. Differences are notable among these provinces. For instance, in the province of Neuquén, the level of the abstraction charge depends on the origin of the water source and quality, while Rio Negro does not make any distinction among water source or quality. Similarly, in Neuquén the level of the charge varies across the Limay River; Rio Negro does not make any distinction across rivers or basins.

Water abstraction charges for agriculture do not promote irrigation efficiency. While volumetric measures are used for setting the level of the charge in the majority of uses (domestic water supply, industrial, mining, oil industry, bottled water, etc.), in the three provinces water for irrigation is charged by hectare. This practice does not provide incentives to foster rational water use by farmers. First, it does not encourage reducing water use, since the amount paid does not depend on real consumption. Second, it does not incorporate other factors such as irrigation technology (e.g. trickle irrigation).

Economic instruments are not being used to encourage pollution reduction in the provinces of Buenos Aires and Neuquén. In both provinces, users have to request a permit to discharge effluents into the rivers. However, in the province of Buenos Aires, there is no payment to discharge effluents. Similarly, in Neuquén, while Decree 790/99 foresees a fee for users to discharge effluents (based on a volumetric calculation and depending on the nature of the contaminants), there is currently no regulation to enforce this decree (Padin Goodall, 2015).

Data and information

The AIC has one of the most advanced water-related information systems in Argentina. The AIC manages a network of over 170 meteorological stations, of which more than 100 provide real-time information. It also has a network of 66 gauging stations (i.e. to measure river flows) (AIC, 2018a). This network collects and gathers information related to rainfall, temperature, river flows, wind, etc. The data are used to release monthly reports on the “hydro-meteorological status of the basin”, which are publicly published on the AIC’s website (AIC, 2019c). The AIC also manages a network to monitor water quality in the basin and analyses environmental performance of the basin.

It is not clear whether the AIC collects and analyses socio-economic data to guide decision making. There is no integrated information for the basin with regards to economic instruments, water uses, agricultural production efficiency, economic analysis on the impact of water-related decisions, investments on water infrastructure, infrastructure maintenance data, etc. In particular, it is complicated to find an integral analysis of the agricultural sector: water demand, type of crops, future projections for water use, etc. Such an analysis is fundamental for any water management decision now or in the future, particularly in a context where decreasing water availability due to climate change is a concern for the basin.

copy the linklink copied!Policy recommendations

The AIC has been successful at managing trade-offs across uses and jurisdictions in a context of abundant water and little pressure for environmental performance, but increasing impacts of climate change and social pressures to reduce point pollution in the basin require strengthening its role to improve integrated river basin management. There are three priority areas in this sense: 1) accelerating the development of an integrated basin management plan that aligns priorities across jurisdictions; 2) revamping the use of economic instruments as a key tool to reduce pollution; and 3) expanding the information system to incorporate other socio-economic datasets to guide decision-making.

The AIC should accelerate the development of its strategic water plan, and expand its scope for it to become a tool that reconciles priorities and objectives across the three provinces in the basin. The AIC has the technical capacity and knowledge to develop a water plan for the basin. It has a long-standing tradition of managing water issues in the basin, and a solid data and information system. In this sense, the AIC has started to work towards a water plan that will provide an integral view of current and future water availability and demands under different possible scenarios (Box 3.B.4). This plan should be ambitious and also promote a shift to strategic basin planning since the entire water cycle should strive to address all types of pressures in the basin (socio-economic, urbanisation, etc.) rather than only in water resources. The plan should set medium and long-term objectives to meet the crucial challenges the basin is facing concerning climate change impacts and environmental deterioration. It should also include a robust allocation regime that foresees future reductions in water availability and increases in water demand.

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Box 3.B.4. Towards a Plan for Comprehensive Use of Water Resources in the River Basins of Limay, Neuquen and Negro

In May 2018, the AIC launched an 18-month project to develop a Plan for Comprehensive Use of Water Resources, whose main objective is to enhance the evidence base in the basin for better decision making. In particular, the plan has the following objectives:

  • identify current and future water uses related to agriculture production, drinking water supply for urban and touristic initiatives, and hydroelectric initiatives

  • carry out a diagnosis and evaluation of the current water availability situation, identifying the various actors with water resources needs

  • propose a tool for water resources management allowing for the evaluation of different water allocation scenarios that combine different alternatives of uses and supply

  • take into account considerations on groundwater and glaciers

  • take into account considerations on water quality and environmental degradation areas

  • develop an action plan

  • establish georeferenced data

  • strengthen the technical capacity of jurisdictions with representation in the AIC

  • develop a system that would be permanently updated and that would allow future evaluations and consultations.

Source: AIC (2018b), Planificación del Aprovechamiento Integral de los Recursos Hídricos de las Cuencas de los Ríos Limay, Neuquén, y Negro, project proposal, May 2018.

The plan, currently under development, should focus on laying down ambitious actions to co-ordinate provincial efforts to:

  • Conduct a socio-economic and environmental analysis (i.e. population trends, economic and social performance, and environmental performance) for the basin. The analysis would provide a clear picture of the current development status of the basin, and allow for defining future water availability and demand scenarios. Currently, there is no integrated database at the basin scale that allows for this type of analysis. The plan could help collect this type of data from the provinces.

  • Propose guidelines for the use of economic instruments as a key policy tool for the provinces (respecting that the competence for economic instruments is under the responsibility of each of the provinces). These guidelines could suggest the shift from surface criteria to volumetric criteria to define the level of abstraction and pollution charges. It could even go further by proposing concrete methodologies for the design in the charge that could harmonise existing differing practices in the three provinces.


AIC (2019a), “Comentarios sobre las atribuciones de AIC”, Interjurisdictional Authority of the Limay, Neuquen and Negro River Basins, (accessed in July 2019).

AIC (2019b), “La AIC”, webpage, (accessed in July 2019).

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← 1. The treaty was ratified by Law 1.651 of the province of Neuquén (7 July 1986); Law 2.088 of the province of Río Negro (21 July 1986); Law 10.452 of the province of Buenos Aires (9 October 1986); and Law 23.896 of the national government (26 October 1990).

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Chapter 3. Water resources governance in Argentina