Institutional Framework

Within the framework of Central American integration, there were interesting initiatives in the late 1980s such as subscribing to the Central American Agreement for Environmental Protection, which was created by the Central American Environment and Development Commission (CCAD); it later became an organization of the Central American Integration System (SICA), which had been established previously in the Tegucigalpa Protocol.9

Various initiatives have been developed in Central America for the purpose of harmonizing the policies and legislation for water management in the region. In 1994, the Central American Water Agreement was signed, which sought the efficient use of water resources based on criteria of fairness and justice. In the agreement, water was considered the 'germ of life, source of development and peace, and a public good with economic value', and the interests of the involved actors must therefore be considered in its management. Also, in the same year, the Central American Ecological Summit for Sustainable Development was held in Nicaragua, where the Alliance for Sustainable Development (ALIDES) was signed in which the formulation of policies and legislation regarding water management and conservation was established as a priority (Aguilar, 2005).

In 1999, CCAD prepared the Central American Regional Environmental Plan (CAREP), which contemplates integrated management as one of its principle policies: social, economic and ecological, equitable access, and the promotion of shared responsibility in the management of water. Its objectives included an attempt to guarantee the protection of water sources and to assure the long-term provision of the adequate quantity and quality of water in order to define uses and to promote the total economic valuation of water resources.

In March 1997, CCAD, together with the Regional Committee on Hydraulic Resources (CRRH), prepared a proposal for the Central American Action Plan of Integrated Water Resource Management (PACADIRH). This proposal was understood to be a group of strategies and actions to 'direct and harmonize the joint development of the water-related wealth enjoyed by the Central American Isthmus, in harmony with the principles of sustainable development'. In 2004, the updated version of CAREP (2005-2010) included the topic of water within the theme of prevention and control of environmental contamination in addition to being considered a transversal theme for action.

In spite of the efforts made in the region, water management is still considered sectorially, depending on whether its use is for irrigation, domestic consumption, industry or energy production. No differentiation is made between surface water and groundwater. No specific law exists in any country about regulating the management of groundwater. Rather, the existing policies and laws have been established to regulate individual uses. At the moment, the Central American countries lack a policy for integrated water management. Only Costa Rica (1942), Honduras (1927) and Panama (1996) have a General Water Law (Table 6.11). These, however, contain no vision of integrated management.

In the countries of the region, with the exception of Panama and Belize, water administration is the responsibility of the Environmental Ministries. In the case of Panama, responsibility falls on the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) and in the case of Belize it is not defined. Although the administration is defined in almost every country, in practice it has not functioned. Due to the lack of clear laws and strong institutions to assume this role, administration continues to be sectorial and falls on the water users.

The institutional framework has been characterized as fragmented and dispersed, with badly defined roles and functions, and with overlapping responsibilities. In terms of groundwater, policies and laws in countries such as Costa Rica and Panama have focused on regulating its use through a system of concessions.

However, given the need to update the normative and legal frameworks, four countries - Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala - are currently preparing proposals for new laws, which are being discussed or are about to be discussed in the respective congresses. In Panama, a process of public bidding is in process for the preparation of a new water law, and the Watershed Law is being regulated. In Belize and El Salvador, discussions have begun to prepare the necessary conditions for drafting a water law and national water plans.

Table 6.11. Central America: current water legislation and water law projects. (From Aguilar, 2005.)


Current legislation

Water law project


Water and Sewerage Ordinance, Chapter 185, 1971

Not found

Water and Sewerage Sanitary Instrument, No. 29,


Environmental Protection Act, No. 22, 1992

Public Health Ordinance, Chapter 31, 1943

National Lands Act, No. 83, 1992

Water Industry Act, Chapter 222, 1993

Costa Rica

Law No. 276, General Water Law, 1942

Water Resources

Law No. 1634, Potable Water Law, 1953

Law Project, 2004

Law No. 5395, General Health Law, 1973, and its


Environmental Law No. 7554, 1995

Law No. 2726 to Create AyA, 1961

Law No. 7779 for Land Use, Management and

Conservation, 1998

Regulation 25992-S for the quality of drinking water,

1 997

Regulation 26042-S MINAE for the disposal and

reuse of wastewater

Environmental Tax for Effluents, Decree

No. 31176-MINAE

El Salvador

Integrated Water Resource Management Law, 1981

Not found

Water Quality Bylaw, Flow Control and Protected

Areas, Decree No. 50, 1987

Irrigation and Drainage Law

Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers

Systems Law

Environmental Law, Legislative Act 233, 1998

Special Bylaw on Residual Waters


Dispersed legislation in different normative bodies.

General Water Law

Among them:

Project, 30 August

Civil Code, Act 1932


Environmental Protection and Improvement

Municipal Code

Health Code


Law for the Use of National Waters, April 1927

General Water Law

Law for Drinking Water and Sanitation, 2003

Project, 2004


General Environmental Law, 1996

General Water Law

Project, January


Law 440, 'Suspension of Water Use Concessions',



General Water Law, 1966

Not found

Law 41, Panama Canal River Basin, 1998

Law 44, Special Administrative Regime for the

Management, Protection and Conservation of

Watersheds, 2002

In Nicaragua, the proposed law was generally approved, which places it in an advanced position within the legislative procedure; however, as in Costa Rica, it is subordinate to policy priorities and to the dynamics of the local power structures. Given the serious political crisis that this country is going through, as well as being delayed while the Central America Free Trade Treaty with the USA was being discussed, it is very doubtful that the project will be voted for by Congress in the next few months.

In the case of Costa Rica, by February 2004 the Water Department of the Ministry of Environment and Energy had granted 899 concessions throughout the country. Of these concessions, 0.9% corresponds to groundwater extraction and 29.3% is for irrigation (Table 6.12). This is due to the lack of existing control on the part of the Ministry, thereby facilitating the illegal extraction of water.

In other countries of Central America, such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, regulations are lacking, resulting in the uncontrolled extraction of water. In Guatemala, groundwater is managed by a private company. In Honduras, there are no controls regarding the exploitation of aquifers; therefore, it is possible that safe extraction limits are being exceeded.

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