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Iran (Islamic Republic of)

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


According to the water legislation, three ministries are directly in charge of water resources assessment and development:

  • The Ministry of Energy (MOE) has two responsibilities: energy supplies and water resources. As far as irrigation is concerned, it is in charge of the construction of large hydraulic works, including dams and primary and secondary irrigation and drainage canals for the distribution of water. Within the MOE, the Water Affairs Department (WAD) is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the planning, development, management and conservation of water resources. The WAD consists of the following sections: Water Resources Management Company (WRMC), Provincial Water Authorities (PWA), Irrigation and Drainage Operation and Maintenance Companies (O&M). WRMC is the mother company that manages all water sectors within the MOE except drinking water distribution for rural and urban areas. PWAs are responsible for the water sector in each province including irrigation and drainage development and operation. Drinking water distribution is the responsibility of provincial water and wastewater companies. O&M companies are responsible for modern irrigation and drainage operation and maintenance. 49 percent of the shares of these companies belong to the MOE and 51 percent belong to private sectors. There are 19 O&M companies working under the supervision of the PWAs.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is responsible for supervising rainfed and irrigated crop development. It is in charge of subsurface drains, tertiary and quaternary canals as well as farm development and irrigation techniques, planned and operated by the Provincial Agricultural Organizations and the Deputy Ministry for Infrastructure Affairs of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Department of the Environment (DOE) is responsible for the preparation of the environmental protection policy and the laws, directives and systems necessary for evaluating the impacts of social and economic development projects, particularly irrigation and hydropower projects, on the environment and following up their implementation.

The “Farmers’ House” was established in order to protect the rights of the farmers. Its role is to streamline and coordinate the farmers’ activities, including their commitments in the fields of farming, fruit growing, animal husbandry, hunting, poultry production, supportive industries and so on.

Water management

Traditionally, the provision of water has been the responsibility of the government. As far as groundwater is concerned, the private sector invests in well drilling after which it is operated and managed by farmers. In recent years there has been a large increase in private sector financing of water projects, especially irrigation and drainage systems. Between 1994 and 1999 the cumulative new private sector capital expenditures in water projects in the Islamic Republic of Iran came to US$84 million. The construction of a total of about 300 000 ha surface irrigation networks has been financed and/or by farmers and the operation of these systems has been or will be transferred to the water user associations (WUAs) upon completion. In addition, the operation of some parts of the old systems has been transferred to the WUAs as pilot projects. These projects are located in Qazvin, Fomanat, Zabol and Khozestan. Another role of the WUAs is to decrease the number of water delivery points and it is also their responsibility to further distribute the irrigation water and collect the fees.

Irrigation development has always featured quite prominently in the Five Year Plans (FYP). In the first FYP (1989–1994) and second FYP (1995–2000), the area under modern irrigation was expanded and additional water resources were mobilized. The third FYP (2000–2005) marked a shift in the country’s irrigation development policy. Since further withdrawal of water will be increasingly costly and in future more water needs to be allocated to other water use sectors (drinking water, industry and environment), more attention must be given to water saving measures than to further expansion of the irrigated area: more demand management as opposed to the current supply management practiced, canal and watercourse lining, sprinkling and other types of pressurized field irrigation, land levelling and so on (Smedema, 2003).

Policies and legislation

According to national law all water bodies (rivers, lakes, seas, etc.) are public property and the government is responsible for their management. The first water law after the revolution in the Islamic Republic of Iran was approved in 1982. Based on this law, allocating and issuing permits to use the water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes is the responsibility of the MOE. The MOA is appointed to distribute water for agriculture among farmers and collect the water fees. Water and wastewater companies are responsible for the distribution of water for domestic use in urban and rural areas and for collecting fees.

In the traditional irrigation systems, farmers receive their share of water based on their water rights, usually in proportion to the land area. This right to water use is usually measured based on the water delivery time. The water rights are attached to the land and when selling the land the water rights are also transferred to the new owner. Water rights can be rented or traded. Groundwater is mainly private property and it is traded between farmers. Wells can be sold with or without the land. Qanats have shared ownerships. Those who have built the qanat or participate in its maintenance are entitled to use its water. The oldest water rights legislation in the country is about how to use and divide the qanats’ water among farmers.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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