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"In Chile there is a high level of awareness about the concept of water governance"

  • "In Chile there is high level of awareness about the concept of water governance"
    Pedro León Ugalde, Executive Secretary of the National Irrigation Commission.

About the entity

The National Irrigation Commission (CNR) of Chile is a legal entity under public law, created in September 1975, with the aim of ensuring the increase and improvement of the country's irrigated area.

To give more visibility to the water situation in Latin America as a whole, at SWM we have carried out a series of interviews on #WaterinLATAM with different public officials and experts in this field from Latin America.

This time we hear from Pedro León Ugalde, Executive Secretary of the National Irrigation Commission (CNR) in Chile.

Question - What do you think are the main water problems in Latin America?

Answer - The main issue is climate change: its effects have been experienced in different countries of Latin America as different meteorological events, like floods, landslides or others. These, together with a sustained decline in precipitations has led to lower resource availability in some areas of Latin America. In addition to the decrease in availability, the water demand for domestic use and for different production sectors has increased.

Q - How about in your country in particular?

A - In the past few years Chile has experienced a steep growth, and that development has led to new challenges. This scenario requires a response based on comprehensive solutions that include developing infrastructure at a faster rate, while at the same time innovative tools for appropriate resource management are adopted.

In our country we have a management model that includes the State as well as water users, so public-private cooperation is key to overcome the challenge of a growing water demand in a context of water scarcity.

According to data from the National Water Resources Policy (Ministry of Internal Affairs), the water demand increases every year; by 2015 the total demand is estimated to increase between 35% and 60%. This increase could double by 2050, making it maybe one of the most important challenges we have to face this century.

Public-private cooperation is key to overcome the challenge of a growing water demand in a context of water scarcity

Q - What measures is the government taking in this regard?

A - One of the main lines of work in our government's current programme is 'to safeguard human well-being and the use of water for production processes, addressing the challenges of climate change'. In particular, the National Irrigation Commission fosters the development of new technified irrigation projects, canal lining and seepage projects, among others, in order to ensure water availability for irrigation. This is done through a programme of subsidies that allocates funds amounting to about 100 million dollars per year.

Similarly, the CNR works towards strengthening Water User Organisations, which are key players in the institutional arrangements for water management in our country.

Q -  Over the past few years we have seen the concept of water governance gaining momentum. Is there awareness about the importance of water governance in your country? What are the main gaps?

A - A 2011 study by the World Bank noted that in our country there were more than 40 public services with authority over water, and they needed to be better coordinated in order to address water issues. Nevertheless, given the legal framework in Chile and the public-private water management model, there is a high level of awareness about the concept of governance.

In this regard, we should highlight the support of the CNR to further the creation and strengthening of Water User Organisations. These entities are created for public interest purposes; they operate under the framework of the Water Code, and concern surface and groundwater. The objective is for them to incorporate technologies and innovation to their decision-making tools.

In Chile there is a high level of awareness about the concept of water governance

Q - Is the existing legislation enough to manage water resources?

A -  There is ample and cross-cutting consensus with regards to the need to modernise our legislation to include the wide range of stakeholders involved in water management and take into account the notion of scarcity, as well as water resource management efficiency, increasingly more necessary.

Q - What is the coverage of water supply and sanitation services in the country? What investments are required to increase coverage?

A -  With regards to drinking water, according to data from the Water Services Regulatory Authority (SISS), at the national level and as of December 2016, the coverage of drinking water services was 99.92%, whereas the coverage of sewerage services was 96.83%.  The challenge still remaining is to improve the coverage of services in rural areas. We have made significant efforts to incorporate Rural Drinking Water systems to attain this objective.

Q - Agricultural water use plays a key role in the development of Latin America; what progress has been made in the country in the past few years?

A - Agriculture in Chile has seen important advances in the past few decades. Selecting crops that are more cost-effective, taking advantage of northern hemisphere markets during the southern hemisphere growing season, and the determination of our farmers have led to our current farmed land surface of 318,505 ha, a 25% increase in 10 years. Obviously, this increase is partly due to an increase in the use of high efficiency irrigation systems; the National Irrigation Commission has played a key role here, with the application of the Law on Irrigation Development. Since 2010, more than 150,000 ha have benefited from efficiency improvements with technified irrigation systems.

We have made significant efforts to incorporate Rural Drinking Water systems in rural areas

Q - What are the objectives in this regard for the coming years?

A -  The key objectives of the National Irrigation Commission for the coming years are updating Law No. 18450 on Irrigation Development, that provides incentives for private investment in irrigation infrastructure, and has led to increased irrigation efficiency. In addition, we will be working on a plan for large infrastructure and on new water sources (groundwater recharge, desalination, etc.), in order to have water available during irrigation periods; finally, we will continue to strengthen Water User Organisations to attain sustainable water resource management.

Q -  Estimates indicate that the cost of low water quality in Latin America entails a loss of 1% to 3% of the GDP. Are there measurements of water quality in the country? What are the investments in this area?

A -  In Chile, the quality of water intended for irrigation is defined by regulation NCH 1333. Through Law No. 18450 on Irrigation Development, every year there is a water quality competition at the national level to reward projects with equipment that, either through physical, chemical and/or biological processes, allow preventing or mitigating pollution resulting from irrigation activities. This year, the funds allocated to the competition were USD 1.7 million.

Q - In general terms, does the user pay for all the costs of water conveyance and treatment? How are water prices set for the different uses?

A - First, water intended for human consumption must follow a different management model than water used for irrigation. In the case of domestic use, the user pays for the cost of water conveyance and treatment; the tariffs are regulated and their application by water services companies is subject to supervision by the regulatory authority (SISS).

Concerning water use for irrigation, it is managed by Water User Organisations, whose boards set fees to allow the maintenance and operation of community irrigation systems (canals, reservoirs, water withdrawal and distribution systems).

Q - What are the most important achievements in the country with regards to water security?

A -  Concerning reservoir construction, since 1990 seven large reservoirs have been built, providing a volume of 785 million cubic metres to more than 100,000 ha. Moreover, currently four additional projects are under construction which in their different phases will provide 700 million m3 more.

Although our challenge is to continue to increase the surface area with technified irrigation systems in Chile, worth noting is the level already achieved, which tripled from 10% in 1997 to 28% in 2007. Current estimates indicate that more than 40% of the land area has efficient irrigation systems.

Water intended for human consumption must follow a different management model than water used for irrigation

Q - Are public policies taking into account the effects of climate change?

A - This issue is being addressed by the different water-related entities, generating studies that support decision making as well as specific programmes for farmers dealing with adaptation measures. For example, the Ministry of Public Works published in 2017 a Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in Infrastructure Services. Moreover, the National Irrigation Commission supports farmers across the country with specific adaptation measures concerning irrigation, fostering high efficiency irrigation systems and improving irrigation canal networks, abstraction systems and reservoirs. Furthermore, we have developed capacity building and transfer programmes for farmers, extension practitioners and members of Water User Organisations on climate change adaptation measures.

Q - What are the main water resource management challenges into the future?

A - The main challenge is to equip farmers and their organisations with the tools necessary to deal with climate change. This entails ensuring the availability of water for irrigation through further investments in infrastructure, but also improving resource management by strengthening the role of Water User Organisations and providing them technology to work efficiently. 

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