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II. WHAT'S IN A NAME?


Although the term 'water user association' is commonly found in the IMT literature, it is used in the legislation of relatively few countries - usually in cases where the concept is relatively new. Thus it used in the recently enacted legislation of Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Nepal, Romania,[11] South Africa and Uganda. The Moroccan legislation provides for the establishment of 'Agricultural Water Users' Associations' (Associations des usagers des eaux agricoles), while in that of the Kyrgyz Republic they are 'Unions (Associations) of Water Users'. The name “water user association” does not appear in older legislation examined here, and it may well be that the use of this term in legislation results from the influence of the IMT literature.[12]

In fact, a surprising diversity of names for WUOs is to be found in legislation around the world. For example, both Andhra Pradesh State in India and Punjab Province in Pakistan use the generic term 'Farmers Organization'. In some Latin America countries, such as Colombia and Peru, the term 'Users' Organization' (Organizaciones de usuarios) is widely employed. Costa Rica, meanwhile uses various terms: the Water Law refers to 'Users' Societies' (Sociedades de usuarios,) but the 1999 Regulations use both 'Users' Organizations' (Organizaciones de usuarios) and 'Users' Associations' (Asociaciones de usuarios). In El Salvador the term 'Irrigation Association' (Asociación de regantes) is used in the case of WUOs located outside 'Irrigation and Drainage Districts' (Distrito de riego y avenamiento) which are a different form of WUO.

Sometimes different terms appear to be used interchangeably in the same legislation. Thus in Mexico, the Law on National Waters uses the term 'Users' Association' (asociación de usuarios) while the regulations made under that law use interchangeably the terms 'Water Users' Organizations,' 'Water Users' Societies' and 'Users' Associations.' In Bolivia the regulation for the use and exploitation of water for irrigation uses interchangeably the terms 'Irrigation Organizations' (Organizaciones de regantes) and 'Users' Association' (Asociación de usuarios).[13]

Spanish legislation uses the term 'Users Community' (Comunidad de Usuarios). Article 81 of the Water Law states that if the main use of the water is for irrigation, such WUOs must be called 'Irrigation Communities' (Comunidades de Regantes) while in other cases the name of the 'community' must be based on the main use made of the water. The WUO legislation of many of the states of the United States of America uses the term 'Irrigation District' and 'Water District'.[14] For example all 17 Western States have specific legislation providing for the establishment of 'Irrigation Districts'. Furthermore in California, the Water Code provides for the establishment and operation of a range of other forms of WUO apart from Irrigation Districts. (See Box A)

Box A. California - a plethora of Districts

WUOs that can be established under the California Water Code include:

  • Irrigation Districts

  • County Water Districts

  • California Water Districts

  • Water Storage Districts

  • Reclamation Districts

  • County Waterworks Districts

  • Water Replenishment Districts

  • Levee Districts

  • Municipal Water Districts

  • Water Conservation Districts

  • Community Service Districts

  • Water Management Districts

  • Flood Control Districts

  • Floodwater Conservation Districts.

As their names suggest such organizations, which are known as 'special districts' undertake a range of water management tasks but all are controlled by those who benefit from, and pay for, the services they provide.

Since the establishment in 1887 of California's first special district, the Turlock Irrigation District, the concept has spread beyond the water sector. Other tasks performed by special districts (established pursuant to legislation other than the California Water Code) include garbage collection, electricity supply, the operation of libraries, fire protection and park maintenance.

The term 'Irrigation District' is also used in the legislation of Saskatchewan Province in Canada.

However, the names used in legislation can be slightly misleading as regards the actual tasks performed by WUOs.[15] For example in England, a major task of many 'Internal Drainage Boards', each of which is responsible for a particular 'Drainage District', is in fact the provision of irrigation water.[16]

The Georgian legislation uses the generic term 'Amelioration Association' although such bodies may undertake both irrigation and drainage[17] while in Germany although the law requires each individual 'Water and Land Association' (Wasserundbodenverband) to include this term in its name, the name must also describe its primary task.[18] Other names used in West European legislation include the French 'Syndical Association' (Association Syndicale), the Dutch 'Water Board' (Water Schappe) and the Italian 'Consortium' (Consorzio).

Apart from requiring a reference to the primary tasks undertaken by the WUO, as in the case of Germany, the legislation often requires each WUO to include in its name the place where it operates. But this is not the case everywhere: in the Kyrgyz Republic, for example, it is not uncommon to find WUOs named after local dignitaries or the ancestor of one of the founders.[19]

So in conclusion, what's in a name? From a conceptual perspective the answer is probably not a lot. All of the examples considered in this paper are WUOs in the sense described in the introduction. The different names used reflect local preferences and practices, both current and historical.

However, on an individual (national) basis the term used in legislation may specify the actual legal status of the WUO, an issue that is considered in more detail below. Thus the fact that WUOs in Germany are 'Verbander' indicates that they are established under public law and are thus to be distinguished from private law 'associations' established under the Civil Code.[20] Similarly, in a number of states in the Western United States, including California, 'Water Districts' and 'Irrigation Districts', established under public law, are to be found located alongside private law 'Water Companies', 'Ditch Companies and 'Mutual Water Companies' which undertake essentially the same tasks.[21] Differences in legal status can, as will be seen below, have important implications for the establishment and operation of WUOs and the name used in the legislation can be an important clue in determining what that status is.


[11] The precise Romanian term used is in fact Asociatiile Utilizatorilor de Apa pentru Irigatii or 'Irrigation water user association'.
[12] The IMT literature, and the consequent use of the term 'water user association' by development agencies such as the World Bank, certainly played a major role in the reform process of Albania, Armenia and the Kyrgyz Republic as well as in Turkey where draft WUO legislation has recently been approved by the Government.
[13] Similarly in Chile a variety of names are used for different types of WUOs. The generic term used in the law is Users' Organizations (Organizaciones de usuarios). The types of associations are: 'Water Communities' (Comunidades de aguas), 'Canal Users' Associations' (Asociaciones de canalistas), 'Drainage Communities' (Comunidades de obras de drenaje) and 'Boards of Control' (Junta de vigilancia).
[14] Goldard, W. Water Law (1989).
[15] And as will be seen below, the principal differences between California Water Districts and Irrigation Districts relate not to their tasks but to their relationship with their members/participants.
[16] Indeed, irrigation is necessary in part because land drainage techniques have become so efficient in removing moisture from the soil. As is common practice in a number of American states, irrigation water is supplied through the drainage canals.
[17] And indeed the legislation specifies that they may be 'Water User Associations' or 'Drainage User Associations.'
[18] For example 'XYZ Irrigation Water and Land Association' or 'ABC Drinking Water Supply Water and Land Association'.
[19] Usually the legislation allows the participants to choose the name of their WUO. However, in Punjab Province, Pakistan the name of each WUO is selected not by the WUO participants but by the Chief Executive of the relevant Water Board or the Superintending Engineer of the area.
[20] The subtlety of this distinction is lost on the English language. The translation for both legal forms is 'Association'. In part this may be because in certain common law jurisdictions, including England and Wales, the law does not provide for the establishment of 'associations' with independent legal personality. Such bodies are technically called 'unincorporated associations'. Non-government organizations that include the word 'association' in their name, such as the 'Football Association', are actually established as limited companies or trusts. This may be another reason why the term 'association' has not been used in the WUO legislation of common law countries as historically such entities could not have had independent legal personality.
[21] Such entities are private companies, that are regulated primarily by company legislation.

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