The Formation of the Machángara River Basin Council (Ecuador)

The Formation of the Machángara River Basin Council (Ecuador)

by Ministry of Environment (Ecudaor), Universidad de Cuenca, ETAPA Telecommunications, Empresa Electro Generadora del Austro, Junta General de Usuarios del Sistema de Riego Machángara (JGUSRM), Secretaria Nacional del Agua (SENAGUA), Instituto Nacional del Riego (INAR) and the provincial government of Azuay/Ecuador

Prior to the formation of the Machángara River Basin Council in 1998, the basin was a space for the exploitation of resources, where a sectorized perspective and use of water prevailed. The electricity sector, the public potable water and sewer service sector and the irrigation sector used the water destined for the different uses as they saw fit, with little coordination among them, which turned into a competition and a source of conflict.

Description of the Actors

The actors listed below belong to the Machángara River Basin Council:

- ETAPA is the municipal public telecommunications, potable water, sewer and sanitation service company of the city of Cuenca: It uses the waters of the Machángara River, which currently supplies 800 liters per second, in order to provide potable water and sewer service to 40% of the population concentrated in the city of Cuenca (505,500 inhabitants), the city with the third largest population in Ecuador.

- ELECAUSTRO S.A., Empresa Electro Generadora del Austro (Electricity Generation Company of the Austro), has two hydroelectric power plants in the basin. The SAUCAY power plant uses 9,000 liters of water per second, and the SAYMIRIN plant uses 7,200 liters per second. All of this energy contributes to Ecuador's national hydroelectric production. In addition, ELECAUSTRO has two regulating dams with a storage volume of 23 million cubic meters of water.

- The JGUSRM, Junta General de Usuarios del Sistema de Riego Machángara (Machángara Water Users Board), is composed of the users pertaining to the Machángara and Checa — Sidcay irrigation sectors. The Machángara irrigation channel has a capacity of 770 liters per second and provides water for the irrigation of 584 hectares, benefiting 2,325 families, while the Checa — Sidcay irrigation channel has a capacity of 700 liters per second and supplies water to irrigate 800 hectares, benefiting 800 users. Among the main crops are vegetables, grasses, tubers and grains.

-Small-scale farmers in the middle and upper parts of the basin grow corn, beans, oats, wheat, barley and peas, and have small fruit orchards as well. Their agricultural production is basically for home use, although small surpluses are sold in local markets. Livestock raising is a very important activity, since they take advantage of the large moors for pasturing their animals, which are mainly cattle for a twofold purpose: production of meat and milk.

-The industrial park located in the lower part of the basin is composed of 120 companies in diverse industries that invigorate the local and national economy.

-The Secretaria Nacional del Agua (SENAGUA / National Secretariat for Water) is the supervisory institution for water resources in Ecuador, whose mission is to oversee integral integrated water management throughout the national territory, through policies, regulations, monitoring and decentralized management.

-The Instituto Nacional del Riego (INAR / National Irrigation Institute) is the entity that heads integral irrigation and drainage management nationwide, with the objective of "Consolidating and executing the National Irrigation and Drainage Plan through the establishment of public policies that contribute to agricultural development in order to guarantee food sovereignty".

-The provincial government of Azuay is the local government that promotes and executes works at the provincial level, with regard to the environment, irrigation and management of the river basins and microbasins under its jurisdiction, among other matters.

-Universidad de Cuenca is the oldest institution of higher education in the Austro area of southern Ecuador, whose objective is to contribute to the country's development by shaping professionals and providing extension and research activities.

-The Ministry of Environment, the entity responsible for enforcing environmental legislation with regard to the conservation of flora, fauna and wildlife, became part of the Council in September 2001.

Background to the Case

The Andean region is one of the planet's most diverse regions due its great natural and cultural wealth. It contains approximately 25% of the world's biodiversity in 7 ecological strata and 133 different ecosystems (SGCAN 2009), with precipitation ranging from 30 to 9,000 mm/year and temperatures that vary from -10 to 40°C (SGCAN 2010). The hydrological characteristics of the Andean basins are also highly diverse; depending on their location with regard to the mountain range, their flows may be relatively homogenous (Atlantic slope) or highly variable (Pacific slope). At the same time, the Andean mountain range, which is the backbone of the region, has an enormous number of basins with particular sizes and characteristics.

The Andes has an enormous altitudinal gradient from sea level to 6,746 masl, where topographical conditions have potential for hydroelectric power generation in all of the region's basins (SGCAN 2010): Ecuador's is estimated at 21,520 MW (CONELEC 2009); Peru's is estimated at 58,937 MW (GTZ & LIS, 1979) and Bolivia has a potential of 39,870 MW, but only takes advantage of 1.2% (ENDE 1987).

The development of the Andean population depends on water and its hydrological environmental services. It is estimated that these environmental services benefit more than 100 million people (IUCN, 2002), primarily by providing and regulating water for urban use, agriculture and the generation of hydroelectric power (Buytaert et al 2006). On average, in countries in the Andean Community (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), 78% of the water is used for agriculture, 13% for domestic use and 9% for industrial use. There is great potential for saving water and increasing efficiency in its use, since currently the efficiency level in the use of water for irrigation is only 35%, and 60% in the case of domestic water consumption (SGCAN 2010). The issue of water management in river basins is gaining momentum in the Andes. Laws have been approved in Venezuela and Peru; Argentina and Colombia have special laws and, in Ecuador and Bolivia, proposed laws are still being debated (Dourojeanni 2010). Although the management of river basins has been discussed for nearly 40 years, little real progress has been made in practice. Only in a limited number of cases have solid systems been established for governance among multiple water users (Dourojeanni A. 2011). The Machángara River basin is highly representative of Andean basins because it is a basin with multiple uses on which hundreds of thousands of users depend. This dependence results in increasing pressure on ecosystems, which has caused constant degradation, fueled by population growth, increased extractive activities and the intensification of natural disasters associated with climate change.

The basin is located in the Inter-Andean region of southern Ecuador (Figure 1), in the provinces of Azuay and Cañar, with a total surface area of 235 km2. It is a sub-basin of the Paute River which belongs to the Santiago hydrographic system on the Atlantic slope, and is considered one of the country's most important, since it is the location of two hydroelectric power plants which are single purpose and provides water for the city of Cuenca. In addition, 77% of the total surface of the basin belongs to the Machangara— Tomebamba Protected Forest. According to the Ministry of Environment, this space collects approximately 305 cubic hectares of rainwater every year, as a result of having 1118.40 mm/year average annual precipitation (IHHA, 2006).

Reasons for Action, Objectives and Targets

Prior to the formation of the Machángara River Basin Council in 1998, the basin was a space for the exploitation of resources, where a sectorized perspective and use of water prevailed. The electricity sector, the public potable water and sewer service sector and the irrigation sector used the water destined for the different uses as they saw fit, with little coordination among them, which turned into a competition and a source of conflict. Thirty-two conflicts have been recorded typically between hydropower companies and upstream communities and downstream irrigation users, with access to water as the main cause of conflicts and tension among the different users. Other causes are pollution of water sources by the mining industry, inadequate management of solid waste and wastewater, and private appropriation of land in the upper part of the basin, especially the moors. Water management in the basin was markedly sectorial. There are 11 public entities with water management authority in the province, with overlapping roles and functions, and there were no clear coordination mechanisms or joint actions. Land use was disorderly, with a weak system for control over aspects associated with the location of public works, mining operations, aggregate extraction, fish farming, agriculture, urbanization and industrial operations.

The basin had vulnerable areas due to geological conditions, as well as improper use of natural resources, including an increase in deforestation and crops on high slopes, which caused water pollution and the accumulation of sediments in water regulating works used as sources to supply electrical and potable water systems. In the upper basin, extensive pasturing of cattle and horses prevailed, which added to soil degradation and water pollution. In addition, there was the seasonal burning of vegetation from grasslands to obtain straw used as cattle feed. An on-going threat was the logging of native trees and the collection of brush to be used as fuel by families living in the basin or to generate income from selling it.

Analysis of the problem determined that the impact on the rural population was significant, as their productive capacity and basic means of subsistence were endangered as a consequence of the degradation of soils and the vegetation cover, establishing the need for conservation activities in this part of the basin. In addition, it revealed the need to implement negotiation processes and to reach agreements among the different users in order to improve the efficiency of water use and guarantee its supply in a context of population growth and climate change. Objectives: In this context, the Basin Council established the objective of achieving effective coordination among the participating institutions and users in the basin to make its sustainable development possible, with emphasis on water management as part of natural resource management. For this purpose, the need to foster and implement integral management of water resources in the jurisdiction of the Machángara basin was identified, using the policies established by the SENAGUA as a basis. In addition, a formal basis for future inter-institutional relations was created in order to unify initiatives and avoid duplication of efforts in the technical, administrative, economic and logistical areas related to the project, as well as to take advantage of the resources available to institutions in their field of competence in order to facilitate technical cooperation.

Link to the Nexus

For the purpose of dealing with the aforementioned problems, on July 28, 1998 an inter-institutional agreement was signed on the formation of the Basin Council for integral management of the Machángara River basin. This council has a board of directors, a technical committee and a technical secretariat in charge of supervising and coordinating the council's actions with its members and other organizations that are not participants in the council. The objective is to facilitate consensus on the exploitation of water and other natural resources and uses of water, from a sustainable perspective, manage resources and applicable legislation based on participatory proposals in local, national and international contexts, plan sustainable development of the basin and stimulate actions and initiatives of actors that contribute to conservation of the basin.

Machangara River Basin is one of 10 selected watersheds in the study on successful experiences of integrated water management of catchments in the Andean region that was carried out by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) and CONDESAN in the Andes Research Program.

Process, Summary of Action Taken

In the year 2001, a strategic plan was formulated, establishing a vision of forming a leading hydrographic basin network with clear environmental sensitivity, generating a water culture among the inhabitants of the region.

For this purpose, a process was implemented to coordinate and articulate the capacities and resources of member organizations and institutions for management of the basin. In this process, some important milestones have been identified: In 2003, the main organizations that exchange experiences, information, technology and financial and legal mechanisms implemented as part of the management of the basin were integrated. In 2005, actions were established in the framework of the territorial planning and management plan and, in 2007, a plan was implemented for the exploitation of natural resources, particularly follow-up, evaluation, monitoring and oversight regarding water. The following are among the main strategies implemented :

- Continuous inter-institutional coordination, primarily among municipalities, rural communities and the Ministry of Environment, resulting in the signing of agreements

- Technical assistance and extension programs with the support of certified communal promoters, community management of natural resources, Guardianía Verde (green guardians), and environmental education

- Communication and dissemination process, by first making an impact on individual knowledge and subsequently, on shared knowledge

- Empowerment of the middle levels of participating organizations for sustainability of the process, avoiding stagnation due to changes at managerial levels

- Articulation of the basin management process with governmental processes such as forest partners, moor partners and FONAGUA

- Implementation of political dialogue to analyze problems and determine solutions and commitments among the participants

- Experience as a training space and this as a strategy for learning and feedback on the process

Planning and Budget

The Machangara Basin Council implements its activities under the Development Plan prepared every 10 years, which identifies priority actions for the basin during that period. The plan is financed primarily by ETAPA and ElecAustro, and also by some government projects and international cooperation. The ETAPA funds come from the potable water service that charges 0.05 USD/m3 of drinking water. The ElecAustro funds come from their environment program. The Basin Council had a budget of 130,000 USD in its first phase (2003 - 2006). In the second phase (2007 - 2010) the fund grew to 715,000 USD, and the budget is expected to continue to grow in coming years.

Problems, Difficulties met

- Ecuadorian legislation does not legally recognize the Basin Council as an organization, which results in a legal vacuum that keeps it from obtaining legal person status in order to act independently without depending on the intermediation or representation by its member organizations. Despite this limitation, the Basin Council is progressing and obtaining good results. So far, it has operated under a circle-of-friends format that enables it to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

- 46% of the population of Cuenca does not know where its potable water comes from and is unaware of the regulating hydrological service that the basin provides or its importance; greater creativity and effort are needed to raise awareness among the population.

- In the spirit of cooperation, the technical secretariat of the Basin Council has been operating in the offices of ETAPA. This has led to confusion among the population, which identifies the Basin Council as an ETAPA project. The Basin Council needs to have a permanent technical team with its own office space.

Results to date

- Institutional participation, consensus building, coordination and COMPETENCE-based work: City Hall is responsible for urban planning and legal compliance; the university for research and technical extension work; ETAPA, ELECAUSTRO and JGUSRM for financing the process in different ways and according to their possibilities; and the Ministry of Environment for regulation and legal compliance. This is achieved based on negotiation with reliable information that makes it possible to understand that in the basin there are a number of water users and they all have the same rights and obligations.

- The formation of the water fund for the Machángara River basin, whose largest contributors are ETAPA, ELECAUSTRO and JGUSRM. This fund is the basis that enables the council to carry out its conservation actions in the basin in order to ensure continuous provision of hydrological environmental services.

- Guardianía Verde (green guardians) program through the inter-institutional cooperation agreement between ELECAUSTRO and ETAPA, whose objective is "to avoid changes in soil use in the area of the Machángara — Tomebamba Protected Forest".

- The Community Natural Resource Management Program, whose purpose is to improve the quality of life of the rural families living in the middle and lower parts of the basin as a strategy to avoid the expansion of agricultural areas to the upper parts of the water-producing basin. This strategy, called "protection of the source outside the source", involves 1,400 families who have successfully implemented agroforestry practices and conservation of resources.

- Development of talent through the meeting of knowledge between the technical world and local capacities, achieving the training of community promoters, who provide their services in the basin, in the "School of Continuing Knowledge on Community Management of Natural Resources, Leadership and Management" program and certification from Universidad de Cuenca.

- Under the concept of "a trained child is one less adult to be trained", ETAPA promotes the "Agua Vida" Rural Environmental Education Program which to date has trained more than 1050 children on environmental protection with a hydrographic-basin approach. In addition, ELECAUSTRO has trained 1070 school children in its environmental education program called "Significant learning for the prevention of negative environmental impacts".

- Political dialogues with the participation of the chairpersons of the parish boards, environmental delegates, political lieutenants, chairpersons of water boards and committees, and delegates of the institutions composing the Basin Council.

- Environmental awareness-raising as a communication and dissemination policy. With support from Universidad de Cuenca, CREA and ELECAUSTRO have created a council website:

- The Machángara basin is a reference source on the management and conservation of natural resources with institutional community participation. For this reason, it has been turned into a training space for different groups, such as students from schools and universities in different Peruvian cities.

- Research and promotion through an agreement on conservation of the basin signed by ETAPA and ELECAUSTRO. The physiochemical and bacteriological condition of the water at strategic points of interest to both companies is monitored quarterly. This has led to identification of the self-purifying power of the Machángara River with regard to organic sources of pollution.

- Considering the purchase of properties as a fundamental strategy for conservation of the upper Machángara basin, ETAPA acquired 1410 hectares that compose the Chanlud Protected Area.

Lessons Learnt

- When a company adopts the basin approach to resource management, it is recognized as another development actor and is capable of approaching other actors in its context and even leading dialogue and consensus building for sustainable resource management, reducing the level of social conflict, improving the availability and quality of the resource it uses and increasing its profitability.

- The Basin Council as a management platform makes it possible to optimize the technical, economic and human resources of the entities or organizations involved, due to which the investments required to manage a basin are shared. In addition, duplicating functions is avoided and organizational strengthening and exchange between participating organizations are promoted.

- An established national and/or local legal framework is not necessarily required in order to form a basin council. In its absence, the formation of a basin council could provide the inputs for the construction of effective legal and inter-institutional frameworks.

- The formation of a basin council through the implementation of its different tools not only contributes to integral resource management; it also generates sources of employment and higher income for the local population.

- The generation of reliable local information and access to it, communicated through adequate systems, enables the actors in the basin to understand the socio-environmental processes in which they are involved, facilitating dialogue and better decision making.

Factors of success:

- Work at the managerial and technical level in order to achieve institutional participation in the process, with strategies such as lobbying among managers and mid-level employees, as well as individual and shared convictions

- As institutions forming the Basin Council have financing capacity and are users of the basin, coordinated actions are taken based on common interests and objectives.

- Signing of inter-institutional coordination agreements on conservation with local governments, communities and other actors according to the competences of each institution. They recognize and share the benefits of coordinated efforts, which motivates them to continue contributing.

- Concrete actions in the field, some of which articulate conservation with productive projects in order to gain credibility and trust among members of the council and the population of the basin

- It is a basin that is regulated by the Chanlud dam (17 hectometers) and the El Labrado dam (6 hectometers), which permits planning use of the resource.

- Strategy for communication and large amount of information on the basin, drawn up by institutions.

- Committed promoters with real authority granted by the Ministry of Environment and certification from Universidad de Cuenca

- Effective control system composed of forest rangers and communal promoters as guards, and CCRM with the capacity to exert pressure and facilitate the Ministry of Environment's efforts to enforce legal sanctions

Possibilites for replication:

- The Machángara River basin is representative of the Andes, where the main water users are cities, agriculture and hydroelectric power plants.

- The experience of the Machángara River Basin Council has been obtained based on its will to coordinate and agree upon the best way to manage water and other natural resources, despite not having legal recognition of the Basin Council as such, demonstrating that efficient water management is achieved based on the actors willingness to engage in dialogue based on reliable information.

- The legislation on water management in several countries in the region has recently incorporated the basin approach. All of them consider the formation of basin councils, due to which methodologies and tools are being established for their formation. This experience could be the basis for promoting and consolidating these platforms.

- In the region there are several basins with conflicts among users of water for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation companies. The causes vary, but all of them have to do with access to water, adequate management of flows and the impacts of the construction of storage dams. Machángara has developed different negotiation mechanisms that have made it possible to reach agreements on harmonious use of water in the basin.

- The Machángara experience has developed and implemented several mechanisms for sharing the benefits of the basin's water, among which the following stand out: the water fund, green guardian programs, and the program for community management of natural resources, among others. This demonstrates that mechanisms for sharing benefits are an important tool for managing the basin.


Miguel Saravia, Director CONDESAN


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