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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


In 1965, the National Department for Water and Electrical Energy (DNAEE) under the Ministry of Mines and Energy was entrusted with the management of the country’s water resources. In 1979, the Ministry of the Interior (MINTER) assumed water resources planning and control functions and delivered irrigation permits. In 1986, the federal irrigation functions of MINTER were consolidated under the direction of a special Ministry of Irrigation Affairs. Two programmes were created: the Northeast Irrigation Programme (PROINE) and the National Irrigation Programme (PRONI). Their mandate was essentially the planning, coordination, promotion and monitoring of irrigation activities in collaboration with the newly established state-level Irrigation Coordinating Committees (ECEs). In 1988, PROINE and PRONI were merged into a single irrigation programme (new PRONI).

From 1995 to 1998, the Ministry of Environment, Water Resources and Amazon Affairs (MMA) was responsible for:

  • Water resources: Through the Water Resources Secretariat (SRH). In addition, the National Council of Water Resources (CNRH) was created in January 1997.
  • Irrigation affairs: Field implementation of federally-funded irrigation infrastructure is carried out by the Company for the Development of San Francisco Valley (CODEVASF) and the National Department for Anti-drought Works (DNOCS). CODEVASF's original mandate was to work in the San Francisco Valley, yet today it also operates outside its geographical boundaries. DNOCS is mandated to operate in the northeastern drought polygon.

In 1999, a new Ministry of Environment (MMA) was created, in charge of the management and control of the country’s water resources. The irrigation affairs, though, including DNOCS and CODEVASF, were transferred to a “Special Secretariat for Regional Policies”, which falls directly under the Government Council.

At national level, agricultural research is carried out by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (EMBRAPA). Several universities also carry out irrigation research. The National System for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (SIBRATER) and the Brazilian Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Agency (EMBRATER), which was responsible for formulating national agricultural extension policies and for coordinating SIBRATER, were both dismantled in April 1990. Field level extension work continues to be carried out by state (EMATERs) or territorial extension agencies (ATERs).

At present, the institutional framework of the National Water Resources Policy is composed of the following actors (ANA, 2009):

  • National Council of Water Resources (CNRH): responsible for the formulation of the National Water Resources Policy;
  • Water Resources and Urban Environment Secretariat (SRHU): part of the Ministry of Environment (MMA), acting as executive secretariat of CNRH;
  • National Water Agency (ANA): created in 2000, its main responsibility is the implementation of the National Water Resources Policy and coordination of the National Water Resources Management System (SINGREH);
  • Water Resources Councils of States and the Federal District (CERHs);
  • State Management Bodies: licenses, grants and monitoring of the use of water resources in state-controlled rivers;
  • Basin Committee (member of SINGREH): discusses issues related to water resources management;
  • Basin Agency: technical office of the Basin Committee.

Water management

Management of water resources in Brazil changed over time as a result of the decentralization of water resources management, the promulgation of the Federal Constitution and the Water Law.

In the pre-constitutional era, there were only a few movements towards a new management water model for the country. The Constitutional reform of 1988 was the first step in the creation of a National Water Law, the responsibility of which was given to the Federal Government. The reformed Constitution also established a distinction between federally controlled water, for rivers across state boundaries, and state-controlled water, for rivers and groundwater that remained completely within state boundaries. Based on this new responsibility, the states began to implement their own water resources management systems. After negotiating for years, the Federal Government approved the 1997 National Water Law aimed at incorporating modern water resources management principles and instruments into Brazil’s water resources management system. A National Water Authority was created in 2000 aimed at implementing the National Water Law.

The creation of the National Water Resources Management System (SINGREH) gave new force to the decentralized water management. After the Water Law, several states and the Federal District have developed their policies, have created their councils, and have developed basin committees.

During the past ten years, in the South, Southeast and Northeast regions basin committees developed in almost all territories of their states. In the Northeast, Centre-west, and almost all of the North Region, however, there are not many basin committees. There are currently 149 river basin committees in the country, 141 of which are controlled by different states. They are mostly concentrated in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará and Minas Gerais. The eight committees established under the federal government are the San Francisco, Verde-Grande, Doce, Pomba-Muriaé, Paraíba do Sul, Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí (PCJ) and Paranaíba and Piranhas-Acu river basin committees.

In general, water resources management plans in the country have been elaborated with the aim to define an agenda for national, state or particular river basin water resources, seeking to establish a great pact for water use in the country. This management process includes: the constitution of the National Policy on Water Resources as a result of an extensive participatory process; state plans updated of five states of the Federation (Sao Paolo, Bahia, Pernambuco, Paraiba and Ceara); the plans of federal-controlled basins (San Francisco, Paraíba do Sul, Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí (PCJ), Tocantins-Araguaia, Amazon and Doce); and the plans of state-controlled basins of national importance, such as the basins of the Alto Tietê and Guandu. For each of these plans, depending on the particularities of the regions involved, methodological innovations and improvements in the coordination and execution of work have been adopted to ensure, in an articulate and participatory process, the desired results.

In 1998, the main trend of the “Novo Modelo de Irrigaçao” project was to increase private participation and privatization of public schemes. SRH of MMA initiated in 1999 a complete irrigation study, which intends to map the actual sites of the irrigation schemes and select potential areas for irrigation projects without risk of water conflict.

The Probacias-Basin Conservation Programme, implemented by the ANA, was designed to face the problems arising from the imbalance between supply and demand water and access to water in adequate quantity and quality. The programme’s main objectives are to enable the implementation of the Integrated Management Water Resources System (SINGREH), creating conditions for the effective implementation of the National Policy on Water Resources, and promote the recovery of basins.

In 2006, the Water Resources National Plan was launched, the main objective of which is to assure water availability in the quality and quantity needed for the sustainable development of Brazil. A first revision of the Plan was finished in 2011.

The National Programme for the Development of Water Resources (Proagua), initially developed only to serve the Brazilian semiarid region (Proagua-semiarid, launched in 1997 by the Water Resources Secretariat (SRH)), was expanded in 2007 to the whole country (Proágua Nacional). The National Proagua aims to improve the quality of life of the population, especially in less developed regions of Brazil, through water resource planning and management and the expansion and optimization of water infrastructure (ANA, 2009).


The number of licenses issued in Brazil in 2007 is 135 680, of which 33 percent to public water supply and 21 percent to irrigation. The Paraná River basin represents 37 percent of the total awarded in the country, followed by the San Francisco basin with 22 percent. Basins for which the main purpose is public supply, taking into account the flow granted, are East Atlantic, Southeast Atlantic and Parana, while in the South Atlantic, San Francisco, Tocantins-Araguaia and Uruguay basins the main use is irrigation.

Water rates have been established to encourage the rational use of water. For example, between 2006 and 2007, there was a reduction in the use of water consumption of around 20 percent in two basins with water charges: the Paraiba do Sul river basin and the PCJ rivers basin.

Policies and legislation

The Water Act, established in 1934, is the background for Brazilian legislation on water. Considered by legal experts to be advanced, especially considering the period in which it was enacted, it needs updating to be adapted to the Federal Constitution of 1988. In 1979 an Irrigation Law was promulgated that set government policies for irrigation development. The 1988 Constitution defines federally-controlled public waters as bodies of water or rivers which flow through, or border on, several states or a foreign country, and as state-controlled public waters those bodies of water or rivers which rise and end within the territory of a single state.

São Paulo was the first state in 1991 to establish a specific policy for water resources under its control, which established a guide to the State Policy on Water Resources and the Integrated Water Resources Management. The states of Ceará (1992), Santa Catarina (1994), Rio Grande do Africa (1994), Bahia (1995), Rio Grande do Norte (1996) and Paraíba (1996) followed, establishing also policies on water resources (ANA, 2009).

The Federal Water Law of 1997 establishes the National Water Resources Policy, and creates the National Water Resources Management System (SINGREH). It states that: water is a public good and a limited natural resource with an economic value; in situations of scarcity the priority use for water is for human and animal consumption; the river basin is the territorial unit for water management; and management of water resources should be decentralized and participatory. The National Water Resources Council (CNRH) is the highest body with the mandate to promote the coordination of water resources planning. It is the strict competence of the Federal Government to legislate on water.

The National Policy on Irrigation and Drainage (Projeto Novo Modelo de Irrigaçao) was launched in 1998.


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