California Public Policy and Citizen Participation/Chapter Six

This article is about water resource policy and policy making rather than hydrology, irrigation, geography, implementation, the management of specific water projects or the purchase, ownership and conveyance of water law|water rights. These policy issues may be subdivided by various means, but generally concern either water supply or pollution. Uses include domestic, industrial, mining and agricultural facilities.[1]


It is widely recognized that water policy is entering a period of more or less permanent crisis, at least in some region, and the chilling spectre of worldwide crisis at some point in the future[2].Given the complexity of international law, national sovereignty and forecasted water shortages, attention is increasingly focused on various approaches to this complex subject matter[3]. Organizations such as the Global Water Policy Project have sprung up to promote awareness and prod government and NGO's into heightened awareness of the problems.[4] Various jurisdictions at all levels from international down to small water districts regulate water resources to protect drinkability and agricultural uses from water pollution. Advanced industrial countries typically develope stringent rules which are disseminated worldwide through aid agencies and international agencies such as various departments of the United Nations. Within the developed nations, some localities have more highly developed water regulatory policy analysis, making and implementation bodies in place, due either to general social and ideological concerns or familiarity with specific, often problematic water quality problems.

Global water resource policy


Planning is viewed as a means to prevent possible political or military conflict as well as a means to address the raw need for water in itself.[5]

At Earth Summit 2002 governments established targets for 2015 to improve access to safe drinking water. [6] In nations of all classes, conflict between urban and agricultural uses are expected to intensify, creating policy making challenges of increasing complexity.

The 1977 Mar del Plata United Nations Conference on Water was the first intergovernmental water conference, leading to the 1980 Declaration of the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade by the UN General Assembly. [7]

The United Nations Environmental Program is a key institution housing water resource policy making agencies and disseminating best practices worldwide. This activity occurs at global, regional and national levels. This role has been enhanced by landmark policy directives:

  • UN General Assembly Resolution 3436 (XXX) Agenda 21
  • 1997 Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP and
  • 2000 Malmö Ministerial Declaration adopted at the First Global Ministerial Environment Forum.




Treaties between nations may enumerate rights and responsibilities. For instance, a treaty between Poland and Germany, "An Agreement to establish cooperation on water resources management" provides:

  • supply of drinking water of good quality,
  • protection of surface water,
  • supply of water to agriculture,
  • fight against water pollution. [9]

The Permanent Court of International Justice adjudicates disputes between nations including water rights litigation. [10]

Non governmental organizations may have consultative status at the UN. One such NGO is the World Water Council, an "international multi-stakeholder platform" established in 1996 to act "at all levels, including the highest decision-making level...[in] protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions...for the benefit of all life on earth." It was an outgrowth of the 1992 at the UN's International Conference on Environment and Development in Dublin and at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. The Council itself is mow based in the City of Marseilles.[11] Their website explains its' multi-stakeholder basis as due to the fact that "authority for managing the world's fresh water resources is fragmented amongst the world's nations, hundreds of thousands of local governments, and countless non-governmental and private organizations, as well as a large number of international bodies." Subsequently, in 1994, the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) organized a special session on the topic in its Eighth World Water Congress held in Cairo in November 1994, leading to creation of the World Water Council. [12].

Pollution types and regulatory oversight mechanisms


Such regulatory bodies as exist cover designated regions [13] and regulate piped waste water discharges to surface water which include riparian and ocean ecosystems. These systems of review bodies are essential to maintaining a healthy aquifer for purposes of drinking water and agriculture as well as the state's endangered fisheries. Another area of regulatory attention, which may or may not be housed within the same regulatory structure, includes storm water discharge which tend to carry fertilizer residue and bacterial contamination from domestic and wild animals. [14] They have the authority to make orders which are binding upon private actors such as international corporations [15] and do not hesitate to exercise the police powers of the state. Water agencies have statutory mandate which in many hurisdictions is resilient to pressure from constituents and lawmakers in which they on occasion stand their ground despite heated opposition from agricultural interests[16] On the other hand, the Boards enjoy strong support from environmental concerns such as Greenpeace,Heal the Ocean and Channelkeepers.[17]

Complexity of policy making and implementation


In typically water challenged province in a developed nation, the number of water regulatory agencies at the provincial level alone is substantial, not counting county, city and special districts:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (State/EPA)
  • Coastal Commission
  • Coastal Conservancy
  • Department of Fish & Game
  • Department of Water Resources
  • Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES)
  • Ocean and Coastal Environmental Access Network (OCEAN)
  • Resources Agency Wetlands Information System
  • State Water Resources Control Board


Regulatory scope


Jurisdictions may have saltwater, freshwater, or both concerns.



Surface water and groundwater have often been studied and managed as separate resources, although they are interrelated.[19] There are three recognized classifications of groundwater which jurisdictions may distinguish: subterranean streams, underflow of surface waters, and percolating groundwater.[20]

Sites of policy makers' concern include:

  • residential
  • construction,
  • industrial,
  • municipal activities,
  • discharges from irrigated agriculture;
  • dredge and fill activities;
  • Consistency with national regulations
  • and several other activities with practices that could degrade water quality.



Ballast water, fuel/oil leaks and trash originating from ships is a growing concern in terms of water pollution in addition to other concerns. Of special concern are:

  • cruise ships
  • tankers
  • bulk cargo carriers

Ballast water may contain toxins, invasive plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria.

Programmatic subdivisions


The agencies categorize their work into the following programs or similar ones.

  • Biosolids
  • Dredge/Fill Wetlands
  • Irrigated Lands
  • Land Disposal (landfills, waste piles, etc.)
  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (surface water)
  • Recycled Water
  • Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO)
  • Storm water
  • Timber Harvest
  • Riparian and ocean going vessel pollution

Areas of concern


Stormwater runoff


Surface runoff is water that flows when heavy rains do not soak (infiltrate) soil; excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flowing over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle.[21][22] Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a Channel (geography)|channel is also called a Nonpoint source pollution|nonpoint source. Such sources often contain man-made contaminants, the runoff is called nonpoint source pollution. When runoff flows along the ground, it can pick up Soil contamination|soil contaminants including, but not limited to petroleum, pesticides, or fertilizers that become discharge (hydrology)|discharge or nonpoint source pollution.[23][24]



Wastewater is water which has been discharged from human use; "water that has been adversely affected" by anthropogenic influence. [25] The primary sources are discharge from the following sources:

  • domestic residences,
  • commercial properties,
  • industry,
  • agriculture

Potential contaminants exist in varying concentrations and new ones are found on an ongoing basis [citation needed]. Sewage is technically wastewater contaminated with fecal and similar animal waste byproducts, but is frequently used as a synonym for waste water. Origination includes cesspool and sewage outfall pipes, some of which are unpermitted [citation needed]



  4. [
  5. Dehydrating Conflict by Sandra L. Postel and Aaron T. Wolf, September 18, 2001. From Global Policy Forum
  6. Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report
  12. Ibid
  19. United States Geological Survey (USGS). Denver, CO. "Ground Water and Surface Water: A Single Resource." USGS Circular 1139. 1998.
  21. Robert E. Horton, The Horton Papers (1933)
  22. Keith Beven, Robert E. Horton's perceptual model of infiltration processes, Hydrological Processes, Wiley Intersciences DOI 10:1002 hyp 5740 (2004)
  23. L. Davis Mackenzie and Susan J. Masten, Principles of Environmental Engineering and Science ISBN 0-07-235053-9
  24. Adapted for this section, including citations herein, from open source CCL 2.0 main article at
  25. Section adapted from main topic Wikipedia article at CCL 2.0 Originating editor TakuyaMurata