Annex A. The Ica River Integrated Basin

The Ica River Integrated Basin is one of the most crucial water resources systems for the Peruvian economy. It supports a regional economy that contributes to over 3% of total production (as measured by gross domestic product [GDP]) and 7% of total exports, despite the small share of the population that lives in the area (2.5% of the total population in Peru) and its small size (the Ica Department represents only 1.7% of Peru’s total surface area) (Box A A.1). As of today, the demand for water resources for agricultural use exceeds supply. The reservoirs of the Choclococha System account for an estimated volume capacity of 80 130 million hm3 and an estimated water deficit of 370 hm3, whereas the Ica Aquifer, the valley’s main groundwater source, shows a deficit of 52.17 hm3 per year (ANA, 2017[1]).

Currently, the most important use of water resources in the Ica River Integrated Basin is agricultural use (90% of total water resources). In the Ica Valley, cultivated land covers 1 200 km2 (approximately 17% of the total land surface of the department of Ica). Three different types of agriculture coexist in the Ica Valley: subsistence, traditional (small-scale farmers) and large-scale agriculture for agro-industrial and export purposes. Since the nineties, the Ica Valley has transitioned from an economic model based on local production to a booming agro-export economy. Yet, most of the water is used by small-scale farms of less than 1 hectare of land (Figure A A.2). It is estimated that there are more than 15 600 small-scale farmers in a harvest area of around 10 000 hectares, whereas 200 companies occupy over 17 000 hectares (63% of total harvest land) (Zegarra, 2018[2]). Out of 120 000 hectares of cultivated land, over 35% are dedicated to export. Many of the cash-productive crops that are being cultivated in the Ica Valley and then exported to the rest of the world are extremely water-intensive, such as grape, potato, asparagus and cotton. According to MINCETUR (2018[3]), Ica was the country’s leading producer of grape in 2017 (37% of total grape exports) and is the leading producer of asparagus in 2019 (DRA Ica). The North American and European markets represent more than 45% of Peru’s agriculture and livestock export market (PROMPERU, 2018[4]). The main challenge affecting the Ica River Integrated Basin is how to maintain macroeconomic performance (economic growth, employment generation, international competitiveness) as well as private investment in an area under severe water stress, while effectively conserving water resources and promoting social development.

In the Ica Valley, which is situated downstream, groundwater takes preference over surface water, especially for the irrigation of agro-export crops. The Ica-Villacurí Aquifer is the most exploited aquifer in Peru with an exploitation rate of 563.35 hm3, representing 35% of total national groundwater exploitation (ANA, 2013[8]). The groundwater table has gradually receded from 30 metres to 180 metres below ground level, with the growing risk of saline intrusion from the nearby coast. If the speed of depletion of the groundwater table continues according to the maximum tendency observed by the National Water Authority (Autoridad Nacional del Agua, ANA) in 2012, then it is estimated that the lifespan of current wells in Ica will only last between 5 and 11 years (ANA, 2012[9]) . In the upper basin (department of Huancavelica), water demand is covered mostly through the use of surface water, while the Choclococha Transfer provides water to the lower basin

The Choclococha Transfer is a diversion project referring to a set of reservoirs and hydraulic works, spanning over the last 70 years, which allows the trans-North American transfer of regulated and natural water resources from a part of the upper Pampas river basin on the Atlantic watershed. This increases the availability of water resources in the Ica River during the dry season in the Ica Valley (spanning from April-October). The transfer carries more than 100 million m3 of water per year to the coast and is currently being expanded by several different national procurement projects in order to reinforce and increase conveyance infrastructure (GESAAM, 2016[10]). However, while enhancing economic growth, the transfer also caused ecological and social impacts to the five peasant communities established in Ccarhuancho, Choclococha, Pilpichaca, Santa Ana and Santa Inés, areas which are located along the transfer. In the upper part of the basin, there is strong pressure on ecosystems with the result of the acceleration of the degradation of the vegetation cover, which, in turn, results in more water depletion. This circumstance, compounded with the lack of technical assistance from local and regional authorities, increasing plagues and crop disease brought about by climate change, environmental pollution from agrochemical use and informal human settlements, amongst other factors, has increased the rate of and amount of damages created by droughts and floods.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Ica department has experienced an alarming increase in extreme meteorological events as a result of climate change (GORE Ica, 2014[6]), especially from increased rain (49% of total incidents), floods (16%) and huaycos (12%), an Andean term for flash floods and mudslides (Figure A A.3). These events have made managing water resources in the area even more challenging.

The population is also growing significantly: more than 50 000 immigrants have moved to the department of Ica, for example from the departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica y Puno in the last 35 years (GORE Ica, 2014[6]) which puts even more pressure on water resources. A large part of this immigration comes from the rainforest, where people are looking for better living conditions and job opportunities. Immigrants settle on the riverbanks of the Ica River in slums and abstract water from often-illegal wells, with resulting increases in river pollution and pressure on the aquifer.

There is a persisting socio-economic gap between the two departments, with rates of poverty at 3.1% in Ica versus rates of 38.7% in Huancavelica (MINAM, 2019[5]). These gaps also extend themselves to access to universal coverage and child malnutrition, where rates in Huancavelica are much more alarming (Table A A.1). Whereas Ica is one of the most economically well-off departments, Huancavelica, its neighbour and partner in the management of the basin, is one of the poorest departments in the country.

There are several deconcentrated bodies of ANA in the basin. The Chaparra-Chincha Administrative Water Authority covers 19 hydrographic units and 6 ALAs (ANA, 2019[11]). In terms of the distribution of competencies between both types of bodies, the Chaparra-Chincha Administrative Water Authority, which has a much larger territorial scope, manages and executes the water resources contained within the Ica River Integrated Basin, whereas the Ica Local Water Authority and the Rio Grande Local Water Authority act as administrators of water resources under its authority. The Ica Local Water Authority administers 9 560.01 km2 of land and the Rio Seco administers 11 756 km2 of land, amounting to 20% and 24% respectively of the total land under the auspices of the Chaparra-Chincha Administrative Water Authority. This land includes the Ica River Integrated Basin.

Other than the deconcentrated ANA’s bodies, there are many other active players involved in water governance in the Ica River Integrated Basin (Table A A.1). The river basin involves two different departments: the Ica Valley, the economically productive crop area downstream, is located in the department of Ica, whereas the upper basin is located within the department of Huancavelica, a much poorer department characterised by the presence of rural communities. The upper basin is also the location of the Tambo-Ccaracocha Special Project (PETACC), an independent public body created in 1990 designed to manage and execute the works within the Choclococha System. This body is now situated administratively within the regional government of Ica. However, its area of physical operation lies upstream in the department of Huancavelica, where the Ccaracocha y Choclococha Lakes are located and from where surface water is transferred to the Ica Valley. The fact that the area of operation and the area of influence of these works are situated in different territorial administrations attests to the imbalance in the management of trade-offs within the water resources management in the Ica River Integrated Basin.

The small-scale farmers in the Ica Valley have collectively organised in three main Water User Boards, which are facing increased difficulties to administer water to their members and collect enough resources for them to maintain operations and finance conveyance infrastructure (Cárdenas, 2012[12]).

There is a fragmentation of legal powers between the players based upstream, where the water resources are located, and those based downstream, where the predominant economic demand for that water is located. The administrative players involved in all aspects of water governance are mainly concentrated in the lower basin, in the city of Ica, whereas the upper basin has a much less crowded institutional environment but also a less-advanced stage of water resources management. Some co-ordination mechanisms are in place, such as the Ica-Huancavelica Regional Commonwealth (MANRHI) and the Ica-Huancavelica Bi-regional Dialogue Table. They have been implemented in order to create lines of communication between the departments.

On the other hand, the implementation of the River Basin Council is lagging due to disagreements over its management. Water Resources Act No. 29338 (2009) foresaw the creation of a River Basin Council in the Ica River Integrated Basin. For this purpose, a regional association between the governments of Ica and Huancavelica was created in 2011. The prospect of the creation of a River Basin Council has, since then, become part of the dispute between the two departments. Pursuant to Article 24 of the National Water Resources Act, these councils must be created at the initiative of regional governments. The Ica and Huancavelica regional governments currently disagree about the inclusion of the Choclococha transfer area into the competencies of the council. The escalation of this different views led to the creation of a dialogue table chaired by the Conflict Resolution Division of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (PCM). However, to date, these disagreements are is blocking the effective implementation of this integrated water resources management tool. Although the Interregional Tambo-Santiago-Ica River Basin Council was created in 2017, there have not been any significant advances towards the effective operationalisation of the council nor a successful implementation of a River basin management plan, which is the main objective behind the creation of the council, as envisaged by the regulatory framework established by the 2009 National Water Law and its implementing regulations.

Another of the main problems in terms of integrated water resources management in the Ica Valley is the weakness of ANA and its decentralised territorial bodies. Despite its new regulatory framework established in 2009 and its position as the governing body of the National Water Resources Management System (Sistema Nacional de Gestión de los Recursos Hídricos, SNGRH), it has not yet been able to sufficiently strengthen its capacities to design and implement public policies for regulation, control, co-ordination and planning (Zegarra, 2018[2]). The lack of capacity of the competent water authorities in the region is compounded by the financial and managerial difficulties faced by the main local public water utility, EMAPICA S.A., which are resulting in issues in the provision of water services to its users. The lack of revenues is resulting in increasing difficulties to invest in the maintenance and expansion of water infrastructure, in particular concerning wastewater treatment. For example, the sewerage system in place in the city of Ica includes one wastewater treatment plant that was built in 1971, which is only able to treat 34% of the current demand (Zegarra, 2018[2]). The difficulty to manage this demand and the need for revenues has led EMAPICA S.A. to auction untreated wastewater effluents to agro-food exporting companies. EMAPICA S.A. will be the first water and sanitation service provider (EP) to sell untreated wastewater for reuse. If reused in agriculture, this will increase the agricultural areas of Ica by 600 hectares. It will also contribute to the recharge of the aquifer in times of water scarcity, thanks to the capacity of the soil to purify wastewater (OTASS, 2018[13]).

This effective implementation of the MERESE is uneven in the area. In March 2018, MERESE funds started to be collected in the basin through the water utility EMAPICA S.A. The rates were set by the SUNASS for a total period of five years (2018-22). During the first 2 years, the rate was set at 1% for the first 2 years and increased to 1.5% for the following 3 years. EMAPICA S.A. has reported that PEN 2 million has already been recovered. The Ica-Huancavelica Ecosystem MERESE Committee was established in August 2018 in order to serve as a space for the encouragement and promotion of PES in the Ica River Integrated Basin. The committee is made up of representatives of the regional governments of Ica and Huancavelica, peasant communities and the agrarian water users, and it is currently led by the Ica-Huancavelica Regional Association (MANRHI). However, the Committee is currently paralysed due to the political conflict between the departments and no projects are currently being funded. Despite this situation, JUASVI (Junta de Usuarios de Aguas Subterráneas del Valle de Ica) and the community of Choclococha have made progress in the implementation of the MERESE interventions and are currently in the process of signing the agreement. The PES mechanisms aim to increase the availability of water resources, maintain and improve the water regulation ecosystem services and fund conservation efforts to protect the ecosystems that allow ecosystem services to take place, such as Andean forests and pastures.

More demand-driven efforts could be made and alternative solutions could alleviate stress on water resources. In order to confront the expected increase in demand that the agro-export economic model entails, there is a perceived need to significantly invest government funds in more infrastructure. Currently, over PEN 500 million is invested in the execution of water infrastructure, most notably in dams and reservoirs. For the regional government of Ica, the solution seems to be to divert more water to the coast, in particular from the Pampas River and the Atlantic watershed in general. The purpose is to feed the agro-export model that is considered by those downstream as the desirable economic model to establish as a means to secure employment and successful private initiative, in accordance with the economic tendencies at the national scale. Demand management also means effective water pricing, with a differentiated approach taking into account the need for affordability both for subsistence farmers and small-scale farmers. Supply-driven responses are not the only solutions, as demonstrated by international practices (Box A A.2).

Data collection and contingency crisis planning would be needed to reduce many of the risks and help ensure the sustainable use of water resources. Water balances and water quality assessments for the basin (ground and surface water) and long-term projections for the basin for different combinations of climate and socio-economic scenarios can give an overview of the possible long-term futures. This would be necessary to assess the usefulness of long-term investments in public and private infrastructure in the basin and expansion of economic activity in the basin to clarify the issues of risk and resilience that may need to be addressed in contingency planning.

Given the threat in the Ica Valley, innovative solutions to offset soil and groundwater salinity may be essential as salinity, under conditions of very low rainfall, can take generations to be tackled. Salinity increase is linked to other processes such as desertification, soil loss and erosion, which are also either outcomes of groundwater overexploitation or drivers of that increase in salinity that leads to significant negative economic and environmental outcomes. Addressing salinity demands integrated approaches. International experience, mostly in Australia, shows the potential for salinity offsetting mechanisms (Ancev and Azad, 2014[14]). Offsets can be defined as actions that are undertaken off the physical location of an activity to compensate for its negative environmental impact. Offsetting is cost-effective in comparison to the conventional regulatory approaches (e.g. standards) as it allows environmental improvement to be achieved at a greatly reduced cost. The salinity impact of an irrigated agricultural activity can be compensated by establishing new perennial pastures or by revegetation, both of which have an effect of reducing salt loads. Under salinity offsetting, new irrigation enterprises can locate in high salinity impact areas, provided that the salinity impact from these new irrigation developments is offset by reducing salinity impact elsewhere.

Establishing apt financial models to aid farmers in crop planning and encouraging the use of alternative agricultural solutions such as hydroponics could be some other ways forward. Similarly, political will, the collection of updated data and information and appropriate crisis planning and management can help. This is of special importance in an area that is already naturally water-stressed, such as the Ica River Integrated Basin.

Other relevant solution for the water and sanitation related challenges are to design a “water” circular economy approach, for examples through schemes for treating and reusing wastewater in economic activities such as agriculture and to perform water infiltrations into the aquifer using the surplus water (e.g.during the rain season in the Andes).

Political responsibility must be assumed by the institutional players in the Ica River Integrated Basin and the clear allocation of powers and responsibilities in water governance should be delineated in order to better deal with the political dispute that is blocking the implementation of more integrated basin management. In 2017, the Ica-Huancavelica Regional Association (MANRHI) was created within the framework of the Ica-Huancavelica Bi-regional Dialogue Table with the objective of providing services and executing public investment works or projects within the territorial scope of the four interregional river basins and transfer areas in the departments of Ica and Huancavelica. This association could act as a basis for consensus to solve the disagreements that are currently blocking the effective operationalisation of the River Basin Council. Incentives from the national government could be needed to ensure that political dispute can be resolved.

Stronger incentives should be produced for the government of Huancavelica to have a greater stake in making sure water resources are managed effectively. This includes implementing measures to distribute the gains and costs of the agro-export model in Ica more equally. This is also crucial for better implementation of MERESE, which depends upon the peasant communities upstream (in the department of Huancavelica) carrying out conservation efforts to improve the quality and quantity of water downstream and making sure that MERESE funds are invested strategically and efficiently.

All levels of government should be equipped with the resources and capacity to correctly enforce policy and work together with private companies and peasant communities to promote improved water governance. This will require an analysis of existing bottlenecks, both in the design of the policy, as well as in its implementation. For the protection of watersheds and the riverbanks and to carry out successful conservation efforts for the aquifer, further efforts in relation to enforcement of existing laws and regulation should be applied, although authorities claim difficulties in widely control the territory and provide an effective response. The full commitment of the national government is necessary to provide the technical assistance and the capacity for regional and local governments to get a better hold on water policy implementation at the right scale and ensure its enforcement in pursuit of the public interest. Ensuring correct policy enforcement will not only improve the management of water resources but also have as a result the improvement of trust and engagement amongst stakeholders.


[11] ANA (2019), Administración Local del Agua Ica, Autoridad Nacional del Agua,

[1] ANA (2017), “Estudio Hidrológico del Acuífero Ica: Memoria Final”, Autoridad Nacionaldel Agua,

[8] ANA (2013), “Situación de los Acuíferos Ica, Villacurí y Lanchas”, Autoridad Nacionaldel Agua,$FILE/07_Situacion_Acuiferos_Ica.pdf.

[9] ANA (2012), Plan de Gestión del acuífero del valle de Ica y pampas de Villacurí y Lanchas, (accessed on 12 March 2021).

[14] Ancev, T. and S. Azad (2014), “Measuring environmental efficiency of agricultural water use: A Luenberger environmental indicator”, Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 145/C, pp. 314-320.

[12] Cárdenas, A. (2012), “La carrera hacia el fondo. Acumulación de agua subterránea por empresas agroexportadoras en el Valle de Ica”, Wageningen University, Peru,

[18] Cooley, H. et al. (2015), Impacts of California’s Ongoing Drought: Agriculture, Pacific Institute,

[10] GESAAM (2016), Gestión del agua en la cuenca del río Tambo Santiago Ica - Pampas, (accessed on 17 March 2021).

[6] GORE Ica (2014), Estrategia Regional de Cambio Climático de Ica,

[16] INFO (2019), “El sector agroalimentario regional es el segundo que más exporta de toda España”, Instituto de Fomento de la Región de Murcia,

[7] MINAM (2020), Diagnóstico de servicios ecosistémicos en la cuenca integrada del río Ica para la implementación de Mecanismos de Retribución por Servicios Ecosistémicos, (accessed on 17 March 2021).

[5] MINAM (2019), Ficha Técnica “Cuenca del Río Ica y su Trasvase Choclococha“.

[3] MINCETUR (2018), Reporte de Comercio Regional Ica 2018,

[15] OECD (forthcoming), “Outcome paper”, Workshop #1: Upgrading, Governing and Financing Water Infrastructure, 14-18 October, Brasilia, Brazil.

[13] OTASS (2018), Emapica será primera EPS en comercializar aguas residuales crudas, (accessed on 17 March 2021).

[4] PROMPERU (2018), Promperustat (database),

[17] UCAM-Santander (2018), El Agua en el Sector Agrario de la Región de Murcia.

[2] Zegarra, E. (2018), “La gestión del agua desde el punto de vista del Nexo entre el agua, la energía y la alimentación en el Perú: Estudio de caso del valle de Ica”, CEPAL,

Additional references

ANA (2019), Autoridad Administrativa del Agua Chaparra – Chincha, Autoridad Nacionaldel Agua,

ANA (2016), “Plan de gestión del acuífero del valle de Ica y pampas de Villacurí y Lanchas”, Autoridad Nacionaldel Agua, Lima,

ASBANC (2018), “Financiamiento para el Sector Agropecuario”, ASBANC Semanal, No. 275, Año 8,

Banco Central de Reserva del Perú (2018), “Caracterización del Departamento de Ica”,

MINAM (2016), El Perú y el Cambio Climático: Tercera Comunicación Nacional del Perú a la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre Cambio Climático: Lima,

MINAM (2013), Diagnóstico para la Gestión del Cambio Climático en Ica.

Muñoz, Ismael (2016), “Agroexportación y sobrexplotación del acuífero de Ica en Perú”, Anthropologica, Año XXXIV, No. 37,

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