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Strength and weaknesses in long enduring French water user associations

Congress: 2008
Sébastien LOUBIER and Patrice GARIN (UMR G-EAU) Corresponding author Dr. S. Loubier Tel +33 4 67 04 63 68 - Fax +33 4 67 63 57 95 Cemagref, 361 rue Jean-François Breton – BP 5095 – 34196 Montpellier cedex 5 - France

Keyword(s): Common-pool resource, Design principles, Irrigation institutions, water user association, sustainable management
AbstractBecause irrigation will continue to play a major role in satisfying world food demand, and because of the increasing cost for creating new irrigation schemes, it is important to achieve sustainable management of existing ones. This article examines the characteristics of management in long-enduring water user associations through an analysis of the sustainability of the French ASA (Association Syndicale Autorisée – Government-Authorized Users Association). Today, 20 % of France’s irrigable area is managed by nearly 1,900 ASAs, some of which are more than 100 years old. Analyzing the conditions required to achieve sustainability is particularly important in the context of growing competition for water, reductions in public investments in irrigation, and policies that promote the transfer of management responsibilities to user associations. The study of French water user associations (ASAs) can both, shed light on factors promoting the sustainability of such organizations around the world and highlight some weaknesses. Despite secularly statuts whose certain points had been taken up by few countries or former French colonies, ASAs are largely unknown in the international scientific community. In a first chapter, a brief history of the ASA is given, including its relation to the present state of irrigation in France and in distinguishing pressurized systems and canal ones that can be several hundred years old. A second chapter is dedicated to a presentation of the five design principles of ASAs legal and regulatory framework that are the key of their longevity and that reflect the public authorities desire to control their future. These principles are: (i) eligibility for public financing of investments, (ii) protection of long-term collective investments, (iii) separation of expenditure authorization and accounting responsibilities, (iv) annual balanced budget and financial monitoring and (v) sovereignty in the definition of internal rules. We then illustrate how ASAs institutional principles conform to the sustainability conditions defined in the field of institutional economics. In general ASAs respect most of the sustainable management conditions advocated by common pool resource economics, either due to the robustness of their legal framework or informal negotiation mechanisms. Nevertheless, we demonstrate in a third chapter that their longevity hides some apparent weaknesses in adapting to change. ASAs have demonstrated their robustness in the short or medium term but are relatively vulnerable to long-term socioeconomic changes. In addition, the management style of ASAs focuses on the present, neglecting activities requiring a longer-term view. It is a reality concerning the saving of funds for corrective maintenance and for asset renewal. Over time, this behaviour jeopardizes the financial sustainability of the system. We then conclude in suggesting several economic, legal and institutional adaptations, either addressed to old canal systems or to pressurized ones. These adaptations could both improve ASAs sustainability and facilitate watershed management in taking into consideration external agents expectations within the ASAs internal management process.
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