Law Library Stacks

Back to Legislation on Use of Water in Agriculture

I.  Scope of Project

This report summarizes legislation concerning the agricultural use of water in nineteen countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Central Asia.[1]  The individual country surveys provide a brief summary of the laws that govern the agricultural use of water, the government authorities in charge of the administration of water for agriculture, requirements for licenses to use water for this purpose, and relevant guidelines on conservation and quality.  In addition, some of the surveys provide information on intercountry disputes over the use of water.

Back to Top

II.  Water Ownership

In most of the surveyed countries, water is considered national property.  The Water Law of Afghanistan provides that water is owned by the public and the government is responsible for its management and protection.  The Constitutions of the republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan provide that water resources are the inalienable and exclusive property of the state. 

In Saudi Arabia, sources of water are generally considered public property.  Nicaragua’s Civil Code establishes that lakes, rivers, ponds, canals, and freshwater streams are public, and that anyone is allowed to use them within the restrictions imposed by law.  According to Iran’s law, all water bodies are public property.  Israeli law provides that water sources are controlled by the state and publicly owned.

Although most of the surveyed countries’ laws provide for the public ownership of water resources, the following jurisdictions allow individuals to appropriate water:

  • The Turkish Civil Code indicates that waters may be classified as either public waters, which are available for public service and utilization under the government’s direction and possession, or private waters, which are available for personal ownership as private property.
  • Chile’s water is in the public domain under the Water Code, but users may enjoy proprietary rights over it and allocate it for different purposes, including agriculture.
  • In Argentina, the Civil Code provides that practically all water is under public domain, but landowners have exclusive rights over water that rises and ceases in the same property, or rain water that remains in the land where it falls.

Conversely, Venezuela’s Water Law of 2007 establishes that waters are public property and may not be appropriated by any individual or entity but water rights can be assigned for specific purposes. 

Back to Top

III.  Water System Administrators

The surveyed countries generally have one government authority that serves as the main point of contact for the administration of their water systems, although some countries have a number of authorities involved.  The following table provides country-by-country details:




Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in collaboration with other government agencies


Local governments


National Irrigation Secretariat (SENIR) within the Ministry of National Integration manages system for irrigated agriculture


General Water Directorate


Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation


Ministry of Energy issues permits for agricultural and industrial uses of water

Ministry of Agriculture distributes water among farmers and collects water fees


Minister of Agriculture determines amount of water allowed for agricultural purposes

Governmental Authority on Water issues licenses specifying allowed amount

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,

& Uzbekistan

Responsibilities divided between various national ministries and departments, and local governing bodies

Nongovernmental Water User Associations delegated with some authority

Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, & Yemen

Varied government authorities:

Ministry of Energy and Water plus four other public establishments manage water in Lebanon

Ministry of Water Resources handles water drilling issues in Iraq


Public Authority of Agricultural Development


National Water Commission (CONAGUA) with the assistance of regional offices, irrigation districts, and other entities


National Water Authority (ANA)


General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works within the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs


National Water Authority (ANA) as well as other national, state, and local agencies

Back to Top

IV.  Licensing and Permits

A.  Types of Licenses

In a number of surveyed countries water is used under licenses issued by water system administrators. Often, the types of licenses issued depend on the intended use of the water.  For example, Afghanistan issues licenses for commercial and industrial purposes.  In Brazil, certain irrigation projects require the issuance of an environmental license.  Libya’s law limits the use of water to drinking, agriculture, and industrial activities.  Nicaragua’s Water Authority grants, extends, suspends, and terminates concessions and licenses for using water.  Venezuela’s government grants water concessions and assignments for different purposes, including hydroelectric generation and industrial, commercial, and agricultural activities.   

B.  Licenses for Drilling

Some country surveys indicate that drilling wells to access water requires government authorization.  Afghanistan issues licenses for “digging and installation of shallow and deep wells for commercial, agricultural, industrial and urban water supply purposes.”  Libya prohibits drilling wells without authorization from the Public Authority of Agricultural Development.  Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq require that owners obtain permits for drilling wells.

C.  Special Requirements for Licenses

Some of the surveyed countries have special requirements that applicants for water licenses must meet.  For example, Argentina’s water laws require applicants for water permits to provide certain information, such as “the extensions of land for irrigation, how many properties are involved or affected, the volume of water to be used, the manner in which water would be delivered [and] works needed to capture water.”  In Chile, applicants must demonstrate the absence of legal impediments for granting the concession, provide technical evidence indicating that there are enough water resources at the natural source, and show that the concession does not overlap with other concessionaires.  In Israel, water use and production require licensing, compliance with efficiency requirements, and the maintenance of water equipment. 

Back to Top

V.  Intercountry Disputes Concerning the Use of Water

Eight country surveys provide information on intercountry disputes over transboundary water resources. 

A.  Disputes over Dams Due to Risk of Reduced Water Supply

Some of the disputes revolve around dam projects that arguably may cause a risk of a reduced water supply for certain countries.  For example, Afghanistan has disputes over water with Pakistan and Iran, who argue that Afghan dam projects on transboundary rivers will seriously affect their water supplies.  Reportedly, many Iranians anticipate that Afghanistan’s Khamal Khan Dam project on the Helmand River will severely reduce the volume of water that flows into Iran’s Sistan Balochistan Province.

Egypt has a dispute with Ethiopia over the construction of the Renaissance Dam, which the latter is currently building.  Egypt claims that this dam will put at risk its water supply by reducing the volume of water flowing into Lake Nasr.  Reportedly, a governor from Mali has accused Libyan authorities of building a project on Malian territory aimed at diverting a large amount of water from the Niger River to increase farmland areas.  Turkey has had an ambitious plan to construct dams and hydroelectric power plants since 1975, and has been accused by other countries that share the Tigris-Euphrates Basin (including western Iran) of hoarding water.

B.  Dispute over Water as Part of Broader Negotiations

In Israel, a dispute over transboundary water resources is ongoing in a broader context, instead of being a dispute focused only on that issue.  Indeed, the distribution and control of water is one of the contested issues between Israel and the Palestinians, and it is subject to the parties’ negotiations on a peace agreement.  Much of the water supply in the region flows from a shared aquifer located beneath the West Bank and Israel.  The parties disagree on the distribution and control of water, appropriate consumption levels, the development of new water sources, and the treatment of sewage.

C.  Solutions Pursued by International Water Commissions

In some of the surveyed countries, disputes over transboundary water resources are reportedly being addressed by international commissions formed by the parties involved.  For example, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is a binational entity that comprises a Mexican section and a United States section tasked with the distribution of the waters of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande between both countries.  According to the US section of the IBWC, Mexico currently is not setting aside the water allocation that must be delivered every year to the United States, per applicable treaties.  It has been reported, however, that the Mexican government is developing regulations that would require setting aside water to meet its obligations to the United States.

Furthermore, reports indicate that after the Soviet Union collapsed, conflicts arose between upstream Central Asian countries (such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and downstream countries (such as Uzbekistan) over the control and use of common water resources.  In an effort to forestall further potential conflicts over water, these countries negotiated several agreements, one of which lead to the establishment of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC).  The ICWC is comprised of water officials from all Central Asian countries, who frequently meet to discuss water quotas and allocations, and to resolve disputes. 

In 2009, Turkey reached an agreement with Iraq and Syria to establish joint water monitoring stations and water education programs in connection with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Back to Top

Prepared by Gustavo Guerra
Senior Foreign Legal Specialist
October 2013

[1] The countries covered are Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Back to Top

Last Updated: 12/31/2020