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I.  Background

Owing to its arid climate and limited possibilities for rain-fed agriculture, irrigated agriculture has always played and is likely to continue to play a major role in Central Asia, including the three Central Asian countries that are the subject of this report—Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.[1]  Despite huge investments in the water supply during the Soviet period, the often inappropriate expansion of irrigation and intensified agricultural production, mainly of cotton, contributed to the degradation of soil and water resources.[2]  Free access to water resources in the Soviet Union also contributed to their inefficient use.[3]  During the last twenty years of independence, existing irrigation practices have worsened the region’s soil and water quality even more.[4]

Organizational structures regulating water management in the collective farming system that existed in these republics for most of the twentieth century were abolished in the newly independent countries of the region without proper substitution.  The same happened with on-farm irrigation and drainage infrastructure, which was built during the Soviet period and historically managed by collective farms.  The responsibility to maintain these systems was not redelegated following independence.[5]

Because of growing irrigation water management problems, international organizations working in Central Asia have recommended the formation of water users associations (WUAs), which are nongovernmental, noncommercial organizations aimed at managing water resources and operating irrigation-drainage infrastructure.  Thus far WUAs are not powerful or effective, however, mostly because they are being established in a top-down bureaucratic manner without involving the local population and farmworkers.[6]

Major international donors made the introduction of such changes that would lead to effective regulation and improved efficiency of water use for irrigation a priority in Central Asian countries’ market reform efforts.[7]  However, the legal situation with regard to water issues is similar to the overall legal environment in these countries.  Recently adopted legal acts do not reflect the dynamism of the transition period, and their application to everyday life is limited because of inefficiencies in the judicial systems of these countries.[8]

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II.  Legislative Framework

A.  Basic Legislation

The Constitutions of the republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan state that water resources are the exclusive and inalienable property of the state.  Every person has the right to use water within the national borders in accordance with the provisions of each country’s legislation, and the government guarantees its effective utilization in the interests of the people.  The rational use of water as a natural resource and its protection by the state is specified.[9]

The main legislative documents in this area are the Water Code in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the Law on Water and Water Usage in Uzbekistan.[10]  These documents establish principles for managing water resources, define the jurisdiction of state bodies concerning water resources and water management, regulate the usage of and payment for surface and underground waters, and set forth measures protecting water resources from pollution, depletion, and irrigation.  The Water Codes also include norms related to the establishment and operation of water users associations.  In Kyrgyzstan, the Water Code includes provisions that establish the minimal ecological river flow, which require government water authorities to define minimal water flow level for certain rivers and water bodies in order to conserve fish reserves and water ecosystems.[11]

Water-related provisions are included in other acts as well, such as the Land Code, and laws related to environmental protection, agriculture, and taxation.[12]  In Uzbekistan, where the interstate Amudarya, Syrdarya, and Zerafshan rivers and the Aral Sea cross national boundaries, some issues related to water law must be resolved according to interstate agreements.[13] 

B.  Government Authorities in Charge of Water Control

In all three countries, functions and responsibilities in the field of water relations are divided between various national ministries and departments and local governing bodies.  National parliaments establish state policies for the use and protection of water resources,[14] approve annual budget allocations for irrigation and drainage, and define charges for the use of water as a natural resource.[15]  The role of the government is to develop state water programs and coordinate activities of specific ministries.  These are the Ministry of Agriculture and Melioration of the Kyrgyz Republic,[16] the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources of Tajikistan,[17] and the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in Uzbekistan.[18]  These ministries have similar functions in all three republics and are responsible for the implementation of current water regulations and policies.  They also regulate construction and operation of the national irrigation infrastructure.[19]

According to some national experts and international donors, the institutional framework for water resource management that exists in these countries requires reforms because the involvement of local governments in water management undermines the uniformity of efforts undertaken by national ministries in charge of water resources and their regional offices and slows down the implementation of national policies.[20]

C.  Water Users Associations

Water users associations (WUAs) have been created in Central Asian states with the purpose of managing water resources at the farm level.  These are membership-based, nongovernmental, and noncommercial organizations aimed at maintaining irrigation systems in the public interest; ensuring fair, effective, and timely distribution of water between farms; collecting payments for the water supply; and settling minor disputes related to the distribution and use of water.[21]  The first WUAs were established by the Kyrgyz government in the mid-1990s.  This was a pilot project initiated by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and the government of Japan.[22]  According to the 1997 Statute on Water Users Associations in Rural Areas, existing on-farm water infrastructures were transferred to WUAs without payment.  Associations were granted the right to trade water, define fees, and impose sanctions in case of a breach of regulations.[23]  The Water Code stipulates that the bulk water suppliers must enter into agreements with WUAs and cannot provide water directly to individual users in rural areas outside of a supply contract concluded with a respective WUA.[24]

Similar provisions were included in the Decree of the Uzbekistan Cabinet of Ministers of July 21, 2003.  The Decree changed water management from an administrative and territorial system to a basin approach and consolidated water management through the establishment of WUAs.[25]

The goal of the Decree was to involve farmers in the irrigation rehabilitation and agricultural reform effort so that the supplied water could be used more efficiently.[26]

In Tajikistan, the Law On Water Users Associations was passed in November 2006.[27]  Although the Tajik legislators used the Kyrgyz WUA Law as an example, they omitted many articles that clearly specified the structure and standard procedures for WUAs.  As a result, varied donors working in this field, such as the World Bank, USAID, Asian Development Bank, EU, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation , and others used different structures for WUAs in their areas of responsibility, eventually creating a lack of standardization.[28]  

D.  Specifics of Water Usage in Agriculture

In the republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, water users are divided into two categories: general and special.  General water use does not involve application of technical equipment or structures that may affect the conditions of water, and most of the agricultural users fall into the special water use category.[29]  This status applies to all users regardless of their legal form, type of ownership, citizenship, or residency.  The special use is on a fee-paid basis, and the fee is collected from all special water users.

According to the Water Code of Tajikistan,[30] WUAs and other public organizations can use water bodies for irrigation on the basis of a license issued by an authorized regulatory state body and according to an agreement with the local water supply organization.  The water usage fee is included in the license fee and in water supply payments.[31]  A similar process was established in Uzbekistan.[32]

In Kyrgyzstan, water charges were introduced in 1996; however, this system is not working properly, and therefore there are inadequate incentives to save water.  Tariffs set by the Kyrgyz Parliament do not depend on economic factors but often reflect the political situation.[33]  For example, in 2010 the already low tariffs were decreased by the Interim Government of Kyrgyzstan in view of the numerous complaints from local administrations, farms, and WUAs.[34]  Because access to water resources in Kyrgyzstan remains a source of social tensions, in October 2012, the Kyrgyz Parliament amended the country’s Water Code, abolishing special permits for agricultural water use and the authorization procedures for water supply.[35]  Water permits are required for special water use in Tajikistan[36] and Uzbekistan.[37]

Uzbek legislation has introduced limits on water use.  Limits must be set for all types of water consumers, including agricultural users, by the Agriculture and Water Resources government authorities and by WUAs for individual farmers.[38]  Charges for water supply and other water services are considered to be economic measures that support rational water use and its conservation.[39]  The same purpose underlies the tax on the use of water resources calculated under articles 257–264 of the Tax Code of Uzbekistan.[40]  Farmers, individual entrepreneurs who use water for business purposes, and all legal entities are subject to this tax.[41]  The tax applies to water used from surface and groundwater sources,[42] and is calculated on the basis of the actual amount of water used.[43]

E.  Water Quality Standards

Each republic regulates water quality by a number of laws, bylaws, and sanitary rules and standards.[44]  Most of the standards and regulatory documents were adopted by government authorities during the Soviet times,[45] although some of them were put into effect following independence.[46]  The goal of these documents is to protect water bodies from pollution, littering, and depletion as well as to assure favorable conditions for water use and ecological well-being.[47]

Each country’s environmental protection legislation includes standards and rates for the maximum permissible concentrations of hazardous substances in water and standards for the maximum permissible discharges of hazardous substances into water bodies.[48]  Norms governing the maximum permissible disposal of harmful substances are established separately for each source of pollution.[49]  National water quality monitoring is conducted by government agencies in charge of environmental protection.  Monitoring includes controlling, assessing, and forecasting the level and quality of national water resources.[50]

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III.  Intercountry Water Disputes

Today, water conflicts remain one of the main regional problems in Central Asia.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union and following the breakup of the economic ties upon which the water infrastructure in Central Asia was based, the Central Asian republics entered into a long-term conflict between upstream countries (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan) and downstream countries (including Uzbekistan) regarding control of common water

For upstream Tajikistan, expansion of irrigated areas in downstream countries resulted in increased withdrawals from the Amudarya River.  In contrast, the downstream population in Uzbekistan is hoping to increase water allocations for their reservoirs.  Upstream water development in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for agriculture or hydroelectricity is obstructing the downstream states’ interests in expanding their cotton production.  Upstream development could also potentially hinder regional solutions for mitigating the Aral Sea crisis that mostly affects the downstream population in Uzbekistan and other neighboring countries.[52]

The Central Asian states were able to negotiate several interstate agreements to assuage potential water conflicts.  The Almaty Agreement of 1992 established the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) as the highest decision-making body for all matters pertaining to the regulation, efficient use, and protection of interstate watercourses and bodies of water in Central Asia.  The ICWC consists of leading water officials from each of the five countries of Central Asia, who meet several times annually to set allocations and quotas as well as resolve disputes.[53]  From this commission a number of additional agreements emerged, some of them pertaining to all Central Asia and others to specific rivers.[54]  However these water-sharing agreements were not sustainable over the long term owing to the disparity in fossil fuel resources between the upstream and downstream states.[55]

According to experts, international norms and concepts establishing equal rights for the upstream and downstream countries should be used in resolving disputes over transborder water resources.  International observers recommend that upstream and downstream states negotiate a mutually acceptable use of water resources instead of infringing on the economic interests and rights of each other.[56]

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Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
with the assistance of Svitlana Vodyanyk, Foreign Law Consultant
October 2013



[1] Christine Bichsel, Liquid Challenges: Contested Water in Central Asia, 12 Sustainable Development L. & Pol’y 24 (Fall 2011), http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1495&context=sdlp.

[2] Christine Bichsel et al., Law, Water, and Ecology, in Ferghana Valley: The Heart of Central Asia 255 (Frederick Starr ed., 2011).

[3] Philip Macklin, Managing Water in Central Asia 60 (2000).

[4] Bichsel, supra note 2, at 265.

[5] Id. at 258–59.

[6] Iskandar Abdullaev et al., Water User Groups in Central Asia: Emerging Form of Collective Action in Irrigation Water Management, 24 Water Resources Mgmt. 1030 (Mar. 2010), available at http://www.academia.edu/ 441417/Water_User_Groups_In_Central_Asia_Emerging_Form_of_Collective_Action_In_Irrigation_Water_Management.

[7] Macklin, supra note 3, at 60.

[8] Abdullaev et al., supra note 6.

[9] Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic art. 4, available at http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/details.jsp? id=10576; Constitution o f the Republic of Tajikistan art. 13, available at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/ groups/public/documents/untc/unpan003670.htm; Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 55, http://www.gov.uz/en/constitution/.

[10] Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan (Mar. 6, 1993), available at http://www.lex.uz/Pages/GetAct.aspx?lact_id=93202 (in Russian); Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan (Nov. 29, 2000), available at http://www.parlament.tj/ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id= 559%3A2013-01-06-13-55-16&catid=71%3A2000&Itemid=62 (in Russian); Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic (Jan. 12, 2005), available at http://online.adviser.kg/Document/?link_id=1000868559 (in Russian).

[11] Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic art. 64.

[12] See, e.g., Law on Property in the Republic of Uzbekistan (Oct. 31, 1990), available at http://www.pravo.uz/ economy/get_data.php3?topic=356&sub=0#0 (in Russian).

[13] Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 4.

[14] See, e.g., Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 5.

[15] Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic art. 7.

[16] Ministry of Agriculture and Melioration of the Kyrgyz Republic, http://www.agroprod.kg/ (last visited Oct. 2, 2013).  For the structure of government institutions dealing with water issues, see Ministry of Agriculture and Melioration of the Kyrgyz Republic, National Dialog on Water Policy in Kyrgyzstan in Integrated Management of Water Resources: Review of Progress and Results for the Years 2008–2013, at 17, available at http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/water/meetings/ NPD_meetings/2013/Kyrgyzstan/pb_rus.pdf (in Russian).

[17] Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources of Tajikistan, http://www.mwr.tj/en/ (last visited Oct. 2, 2013).

[18] Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in Uzbekistan, http://www.agro.uz (last visited Oct. 2, 2013).

[19] A. Djailoobaev, Ministry of Water Resources and Agriculture, National Report on Regional Water Partnership (Kyrgyz Republic) 5, available at http://www.gwp.org/Global/GWP-CACENA_Files/en/pdf/kyrgyzstan.pdf (last visited Oct. 2, 2013).

[20] See, e.g., Tajikistan Proposal for Financing to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) (unofficial translation), http://www.gafspfund.org/sites/gafspfund.org/files/Documents/Tajikistan%205% 20of%209%20Proposal.pdf (last visited Oct. 2, 2013).

[21] Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan art. 43.

[22] Jenniver Sehring, Water User Associations (WUAs) in Kyrgyzstan: A Case Study on Institutional Reform in Local Irrigation Management 7 (Discussion Paper, Zentrum für internationale Entwicklungs- und Umweltforschung der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Aug. 2005), http://geb.uni-giessen.de/geb/volltexte/2005/2392/pdf/ZEUDisc Pap24.pdf.

[23] Id.

[24] Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic art. 21.

[25] Iskandar Abdullaev et al., Agricultural Water Use and Trade in Uzbekistan: Situation and Potential Impacts of Market Liberalization, 25 Water Resources Development 47, 54 (Mar. 2009), available at http://www.zef.de/module/register/media/5d18_Abdullaev_revise.pdf.

[26] Id. at 48.

[27] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. 213 on Water Users Associations (Nov. 21, 2006), http://www.mmk.tj/ru/ legislation/legislation-base/ (in Russian).

[28] WUA Workshop – Country Summary: Tajikistan, World Bank, http://go.worldbank.org/26GZLRGY60 (last visited Oct. 2, 2013). 

[29] See Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan art. 66; Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 18-1.

[30] Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan art. 26.

[31] Id. art. 74.

[32] Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 28.

[33] Djailoobaev, supra note 19. 

[34] Tariffs for Supply of Irrigation Water Will Be Reduced, Kabar (June 24, 2010), http://www.kabar.kg/ economics/full/2798 (in Russian).

[35] Law of the Kyrgyz Republic No. 170 on Amendments to Some Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic art. 14 (Oct. 10, 2012), http://base.spinform.ru/show_doc.fwx?rgn=55058 (in Russian). 

[36] Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan art. 27.

[37] Law on Water and Water Use of the Republic of Uzbekistan art. 24.

[38] Id. art. 30.

[39] Id. art. 106.

[40] Tax Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, available at http://www.lex.uz/Pages/GetAct.aspx?lact_id=1286689.

[41] Id. art. 258.

[42] Id.

[43] Id. art. 259.

[44] I. Petrakov, The Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia, Legal and Institutional Basis of Water Quality Management in Central Asian Countries, Regional Report 10 (2010), http://www.carecnet.org/programmes-and-activities/water-initiatives-support/project-water-quality-in-central-asia/publications-and-reports/other-publications/?lang=en (in Russian).

[45] A. Jumagulov, The Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia, Water Quality Standards and Norms in the Republic of Tajikistan 29 (2009), http://www.carecnet.org/programmes-and-activities/water-initiatives-support/project-water-quality-in-central-asia/publications-and-reports/standards-and-norms-of-water-quality-in-central-asia/?lang=en.

[46] Id. at 32.

[47] Id. at 24–25.

[48] Id. at 26.

[49] Zulfiya Yarullina et al., The Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia, National Report [on] Water Quality Standards and Norms in the Republic of Uzbekistan 21 (2011), http://www.carecnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/uzbek_angl.pdf

[50] Id

[51] Erika Weinthal, Water Conflict and Cooperation in Central Asia 6 (Background Paper for the UN Human Development Report 2006), http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2006/papers/weinthal%20erika.pdf.

[52] Id. at 6–7.

[53] Water in Central Asia: Past, Present, and Future, Water Politics (Oct. 17, 2012), http://www.waterpolitics. com/2012/10/17/water-in-central-asia-past-present-and-future/.

[54] Id.

[55] Weinthal, supra note 51, at 10–11.

[56] Kulpash Konyrova, Water, Energy Can Cause Serious Conflict in Central Asia, New Europe (Apr. 13, 2013), http://www.neurope.eu/article/water-energy-can-cause-serious-conflict-central-asia.

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Last Updated: 03/31/2014