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


Under Law No. 221/2000, several institutions are in charge of water-related issues (Hamamy, 2007).

The Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) is composed of two directorates: the General Directorate of Hydraulic and Electric Resources and the General Directorate of Operation. MEW implements water policy and extends and monitors the implementation of hydraulic and electric projects. It applies laws regarding the protection of public water and its use and it has the administrative guardianship (supervision) over the Water and Wastewater Establishments. It controls hydraulic and electric concessions and applies the mine laws.

The Establishments enjoy financial and administrative autonomy in their areas. They are in charge of hydraulic projects, irrigation, investments and feasibility studies relating to the master plan prepared by MEW. They implement, operate, maintain and recover costs pursuant to the provisions of Law No. 221/2000. They draw up their tariffs and business plan, which is updated on a yearly basis.

The Ministry of Public Health monitors and controls water quality. The Meteorological Service of Civil Aviation of the Ministry of Public Works collects precipitation data. Municipalities and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities are responsible for the collection of wastewater.

The Green Plan (GP) works under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Agriculture and is responsible for constructing earth ponds and small water reservoirs.

The Litani River Authority (LRA) is the only water authority to retain special responsibilities and functions that extend beyond its administrative region (the natural boundaries of the Litani Basin). It is responsible for developing and managing irrigation water and associated works in southern Bekaa and South Lebanon. It is also in charge of measuring surface water along the Lebanese territory. Law No. 221/2000 provides a two-year transitional period for reorganizing the existing water boards into regional water authorities.

Water management

Technical aspects of irrigation management include the implementation of cost-benefit analyses for medium and large irrigation projects and cost-recovery of water delivery over time. Historically, the utilization of large pumps to lift water from deep wells, combined with the cost of pumping water, has led to high costs of irrigation water to farmers. Added to this, the quality of water available to farmers has gradually deteriorated due to heavy use of agricultural inputs. The small size of irrigation schemes, land fragmentation and poor services have left a gap in water management policy in Lebanon. Experience of local water management derives from specific cases of rehabilitation of public schemes using both traditional and pressurized irrigation systems. In private schemes considerable experience was gained in irrigation management because more investment was made in the sector.

Recently, increasing attention has been paid to water management issues and the improvement of water use efficiency, such as by using appropriate irrigation methods and water harvesting techniques. Research conducted at the Department of Irrigation and Agrometeorology of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and at the American University of Beirut, Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science focuses on improving water use efficiency both in irrigated and rainfed agriculture (Karam et al, 2003, 2005, 2006). Field research dealing with supplemental irrigation of cereals and legumes is important because it leads to an increase in yield in scarce water environments. However, the dissemination of results and transfer of knowledge to end-users at on-farm level is still inadequate.

In some public schemes geared to demand, an engineering approach has been adopted to water management, focusing on improving network performance and distribution uniformity and applying a sustainable water tariff system. However, the non-existence of water-user associations led to bad water management at scheme and on-farm levels. In private irrigation schemes, instead, experience in water management was gained through increasing investment in the sector and the presence of highly qualified workers.

To overcome problems of water scarcity, the government initiated a water management policy in the early 1990s based on:

  • rehabilitation of the already existing irrigation schemes
  • reorganization of the water sector
  • launch of the ten-year master plan for water storage in dams and earth ponds
  • implementation of new irrigation schemes using advanced pressurized distribution systems.


The water sector in Lebanon has always suffered from a lack of a shared policy. On the one hand, it is said that the criterion for water allocation should be economic water use efficiency i.e. the cash produced per unit intake of water and that this can only be achieved by high water prices coupled to a free water market. On the other hand, it is also recognized that there are barriers to the application of a strict pricing mechanism, such as feasibility (water is often not metered), existing legal and historical water rights, and a social environment in which water is perceived as a common heritage. Therefore, price differentiation as a means to deal with scarcity is an option presently available only to a relatively small number of well-equipped irrigation consortia in regions where it is legally feasible and socially acceptable. Nowadays, there is general agreement that water resources are being depleted and that this rate is not sustainable. Scarce water resources are increasingly being used for high-value crops, shown for example by the large increase in the production of fruit and vegetables in greenhouses, where the water-delivery infrastructure is relatively advanced and more efficient.

Agriculture, and more precisely the irrigation sector, has always suffered from a lack of incentives to farmers. Water assigned by rotation and/or with a fixed flow rate hampers the application of water-saving techniques, contrary to volume-related price structures. In addition, even where the water intake is metered, levies amount to a minimal fraction of the value of the cash crops harvested. Therefore water prices, perceived as high in the range of prices that are seen as socio-economically acceptable, have very little impact on farmers’ behaviour. An example of a good incentive was the one offered by the public sector, which provided farmers in the South Bekaa Irrigation Scheme with irrigation equipment to efficiently irrigate 900 ha of reclaimed soils. This helped to reduce the water use per ha from 15 000 m3/year where furrow irrigation was used, to 6 500 m3/year using localized irrigation. In other areas, drip irrigation contributed to water savings of more than 50 percent compared with furrow irrigation.

Between 1 January 1992 and 31 December 2000, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) awarded 129 contracts worth a total of US$409.2 million in the water supply sector in Lebanon (CDR, 2001). By March 2001, 60 percent of the awarded projects had been completed. About 95 percent of the contracts involved capital costs, almost 4 percent consisted in technical assistance and only 1 percent was allotted to O&M.

Policies and legislation

In 2000, the Government of Lebanon approved a reorganization plan for the water sector, including irrigation water, drinking water and wastewater, with the aim of better management, maintenance and effectiveness in the water sector. Law No. 241 (29/5/2000) reorganized the existing 22 water boards into four Regional Water Authorities: North Lebanon for the Governorate of North Lebanon, Beirut and Mount Lebanon for the Governorates of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, South Lebanon for the Governorates of South Lebanon and Nabatiyeh, and Bekaa for the Governorate of Bekaa. Working under the auspices of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW), the four authorities are in charge of managing irrigation water, drinking water and wastewater. Their responsibilities extend to water policy planning at national level, measurement of water flows in rivers and measurement of groundwater recharge, construction of water storage capacities (dams, reservoirs and earth ponds), monitoring the quality of drinking water and treated wastewater, water pricing, and water legislation. They are also responsible for studying, rehabilitating, implementing and managing water projects in the country (adduction and distribution network).

Law No. 221/2000 empowers the regional water authorities to set and collect water tariffs for domestic and agricultural use. Subscription fees for domestic water supply vary depending on water availability and distribution costs: gravity distribution is cheapest while distribution by pumping is far more expensive. In the Beirut area, where water tariffs are high, water is conveyed long distances and/or pumped from deep wells. In some parts of northern Lebanon, where water tariffs are low, water is available from springs and delivered by gravity. In 2001, tariffs ranged from US$43 to US$153/year for 1 m3/day gauge subscription, which is equivalent to US$0.12 to US$0.42 per m3 water per day per household assuming consumption of 1 m3 of water per day. However, most households incur additional expenses to meet their water requirements. In fact, most households pay much more on a per cubic meter basis for two main reasons: (i) frequent and periodic water shortages and (ii) the need to buy water from private haulers, at a cost that is typically around US$5–US$10 per m3. In public irrigation schemes where water is delivered by gravity, water is charged at a flat rate per cropped area. In the irrigation schemes of the Litani, where water is delivered by means of pressurized pipes, volumetric metering is provided. This is the case of the Saida-Jezeen irrigation scheme and in some parts of the South Bekaa Irrigation Scheme. As an example, water charges vary between US$260/ha in the Qasmieh-Ras-El Ain Irrigation scheme in south Lebanon to US$30–150 /ha in the Danneyeh and Akkar irrigation schemes in northern Lebanon.


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