Drought is an increasingly problematic environmental issue globally, there has been a rise in social-environmental conflicts related to water scarcity. Due to the overlapping of drought with human activities, resultant conflicts have driven the political discussion towards water governance issues and the role of States to allocate and prioritize water rights as human rights, an important issue at international, national and local levels. Regrettably, the discussion is centered on the dynamics and influence of institutions, and on the selection of instruments in the conduct of public policy that finally allow the allocation of water rights by water markets. The decision-making process, however, doesn't take into consideration that the outcome of a water policy will be construction of engineering infrastructure impacting the local environmental and its ecosystem services. In accordance with the classical public policy assessment, the political parties select a subgroup of actions from a universal group of feasible actions such as the development of engineering infrastructure e.g. dams, infiltration, groundwater recharge, remote sensing -- depending upon the economic and political benefits which will directly influence the outcomes of the adopted water public policy.
Furthermore, with respect to the decision-making process, climate forecasting is generally not included. This however will be increasingly relevant to the allocation of water rights based on the relationship between water availability and allocation of rights. Despite the fact that there is literature to support decision-making based on evidence, this literature doesn't include local expert knowledge acknowledging local particularities and climate issues. It is necessary to examine how we can include local knowledge into a decision-making process to select the engineering actions that are most appropriate to be applied. An approach is the sustainability assessment of public policies that prioritizes and defines the scope to ensure the sustainability of water resources. A sustainability assessment goes beyond policy analysis -- ex ante - or policy evaluation -- ex post -; this assessment recognizes that the policy-making process has influence on how the policy and its contents -- engineering solutions - are implemented; thereby indicating the likelihood of policy success.
In Chile, water stress is increasing due to continual rising pressure on watersheds due to the expansion of agriculture, hydropower, mining, tourism and urban population and their geographical overlap. The result is an increase in local conflicts between each of the water users. The political discussion to resolve these conflicts is focused upon new public infrastructure for water supply --storage and distribution- as part of a countrywide strategy. This strategy does not, however, consider the risks of such developments. This strategy does not include projected impacts of climate change, strategies to improve water availability nor enhancement of water efficiency and water allocation. This research discusses alternative methods to formulate a series of policy recommendations based on a methodology to prioritize actions, upon which the outcomes depend. Our research develops a methodology to critically understand and develop public policy.
In 2011, the National Commission for Irrigation (NCI) issued the National Irrigation Strategy (NIS) proposing a blueprint of actions necessary to deploy an effective nationwide irrigation policy. This requires a sustainability assessment methodology that is based on engineering actions affecting water uses and a set of use criteria. Here, we analyzed the NIS using a sustainability assessment approach that prioritizes and defines the scope to ensure the sustainability of the policy with the consideration of other water resources. Therefore, we set the water resources as the keystone for the new irrigation policy.As a first step, we determinate the main goals of a water policy upon which water protection efforts should be focused. According to new setting, three main scopes were proposed: An increase in the availability of water resources, an improvement in water use efficiency and an improvement in allocation based on information systems and water markets. The methodology requires that values should be assigned to each engineering strategy proposed that reflect the degree to which the given engineering infrastructure contributes to achieve the three main goals measured by the given impaired use criterion. Once produced, mathematical analysis based on concepts from fuzzy set theory were performed to obtain a ranking of engineering solutions upon which water protection efforts should be focused.
After that, the set of engineering actions proposed by NCI was included into the methodology. A survey was held in which 22 persons with expert knowledge of water engineering and public policies determined impact values through a group-consensus process. The analytical portion of the methodology was then used to rank the engineering actions from several perspectives, including increasing water availability, water efficiency and water allocation. The overall conclusion of the surveys was that the fuzzy set decision model is a useful and effective methodology for ranking engineering actions to achieve desired goals. The impact assessment and prioritization of actions based on expert knowledge and stakeholder participation, shows that the investment in distribution and infiltration systems are the preferred options over the construction of large dams or reservoirs which contradicts the perception in Chile that dams provide the best solution. Finally, these results demonstrated that local expert knowledge including climate forecasts provided a considerably more comprehensive perspective than the traditional decision-making process to allocate water's rights based on water markets unrelated to engineering developments. 1. Alsharhan A.S.. 2003Water Resources Perspectives: Evaluation, Management and Policy. Elsevier ISBN: 978-0-444-51508-7
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