Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 3

by Delgollage Senevirathne, Assistant General Manager (Sociologist) at the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB), Sri Lanka.

(3) Grass roots and high level approach to resolution

Community based approach to resolution of water issues relating to competition resulting in water shortages for some communities operating in downstream areas will need strategies for water allocation including mechanisms to ensure equity in distribution of available water among the user communities based on rational allocation criteria.  The water allocation policies at national and river basin levels will have to be formulated and implemented.   Water conservation will be a common approach for resolving of issues relating to water shortages and demand management will be a tool for managing the issues using strategies such as awareness creation among the community users, legal provisions, technology improvements etc.

Impacts of pollution could be seen as an issue relating to lack of enforcement of legal provisions for which community level informants will have to be mobilized to report on specific issues relating to point source pollution.

High level approach to resolution of water issues will consist of a policy and a legal body established at national level that will co-ordinate the policy formulation, monitoring and implementation through a legal network involving provincial, district and divisional administration including a group of community informants supported by a network of NGOs who will be held responsible for popularizing the policy and legal framework among the general population. Transparency in decision making will have to be promoted through river basin planning committees consisting of representatives of government agencies/ provincial authorities and water users representing different sub-sectors. Capacity building programmes among Government agencies to be engaged in water resources management will have to be strengthened through regular training and provision of related equipment to improve application of modern technology to information management etc.

(4) Individual and community rights to surface and ground water

There is no individual or community right to access water from common sources of surface water other than for meeting social needs while that from confined ground water wells will be available on the basis of land ownership. Similarly access rights to aquifers are available for individuals or community groups in the light of gaps in legal provisions. There are several cases of illegal water extractions by individual farmers from rivers for agricultural plots in mid-stream areas that are affecting the downstream water users and some instances where water extracted from groundwater wells in adjacent lands are being impacted from either over-extraction at the same time or from groundwater pollution in cases where contamination of pollutants from either party in adjacent lands may occur.

Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka ( MASL) has been involved in a restructuring exercise to transform itself to a river basin management agency under the World Bank funded Restructuring and Rehabilitation project where a river basin plan was formulated for Kala Oya basin as a pioneering venture to manage the water and related natural resources in the basin. It involved consultations among all stakeholders in upstream, mid-stream and downstream of the basin in identification of issues and strategies for resolution of issues of water and related natural resources under the basin management concepts where individual and community rights to surface and ground water were taken into consideration.

(5) Awareness of the effects of groundwater extraction

The over exploitation of groundwater will reflect in the reduced base flows in the river system thus impacting on the maintenance of environmental flows that will be required for sustaining fauna and flora along the river and heavy extraction of groundwater will increase the salinity levels of the surface water close to the river mouth.  It will also deepen the availability of groundwater that will be impacted by the low quality of water extracted.

Hence awareness of the effects of groundwater extraction among the users of groundwater will become an essential feature of water resources management.

NWSDB is an RWSN Member Organisation. To find out more visit the RWSN main website.

D.Senevirathne Assistant General Manager (Sociology)   Policy and Planning Division   National Water Supply and Drainage Board
Assistant General Manager (Sociology)
Policy and Planning Division
National Water Supply and Drainage Board

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit to find out more

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