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Legislation on Use of Water in Agriculture

The following is a guest post by my colleague Gustavo Guerra, senior foreign law Specialist for Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries in the Law Library’s Global Legal Research Center. Gustavo has previously blogged on Mexican Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights.

The Law Library of Congress recently published a report titled “Legislation on Use of Water in Agriculture.” The report summarizes legislation concerning the agricultural use of water in nineteen countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The report includes individual country surveys for Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Iran,Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, UzbekistanYemen, and Venezuela. Each survey provides a brief summary of the laws that govern the agricultural use of water, the government authorities in charge of the administration of water for agriculture, requirements for licenses to use water for this purpose, and relevant guidelines on conservation and quality.


Downstream face of Como spillway outlet, footbridge and stop gate, looking west – Bitter Root Irrigation Project, Como Dam, West of U.S. Highway 93, Darby, Ravalli County, MT.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. For illustration only.

In most of the surveyed countries, water is considered national property. Some countries, however, allow individuals to appropriate water. For example, Turkish law provides that water may be classified as either public water (which is available for public service and utilization under the government’s direction and possession), or private water (which is available for personal ownership as private property). Chile’s water is in the public domain, but users may enjoy proprietary rights over it and allocate it for different purposes, including agriculture.

In a number of surveyed countries water is used under licenses issued by water system administrators. Often, the types of licenses issued depend on the intended use of the water. For example, Afghanistan issues licenses for commercial and industrial purposes. Libya’s law limits the use of water to drinking, agriculture, and industrial activities. Government of Venezuela grants water concessions and assignments for different purposes, including hydroelectric generation and industrial, commercial, and agricultural activities.

Some of the country surveys provide information on intercountry disputes over transboundary water resources. Afghanistan has disputes over water with Pakistan and Iran. Both countries argue that Afghan dam projects on transboundary rivers will seriously affect their water supplies. Chile has ongoing disputes with Bolivia over two rivers that flow between these countries. Egypt has a dispute with Ethiopia over the construction of the “Renaissance Dam” that the latter is currently building: Egypt claims that this dam will put at risk its water supply by reducing the volume of water flowing into Lake Nasr. Turkey has had an ambitious plan to construct dams and hydroelectric power plants since 1975, and has been accused by other countries that share the Tigris-Euphrates Basin (including western Iran) of hoarding water.

Water, as we know, is a very important commodity. In some parts of the world, particularly where water is scarce, control and distribution of water may lead to international disputes. The multinational report on the regulation of water use in agriculture may shed some light on how foreign countries manage this very important natural resource. If you are interested in regulation of water in the United States we encourage you to review our previous In Custodia Legis blog by Margaret Wood titled “An Introduction to Water Law.”

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