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Report of the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management

Major Conclusions and Recommendations from the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management

Compiled by Alberto J. Palombo1

1 Project Manager, Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management, South Florida Water Management District; 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, Florida 33406, USA
The Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management was held at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Miami, Florida, USA on October 27-30, 1993. The Dialogue was held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Interstate Council on Water Policy and the XVI Annual Conference on Water Management in Florida.

Every international water resource conference in the past twenty years has confronted these challenges and made recommendations to meet them. Consistent themes have been the need to advance water resource technology, improve the exchange of information, and institute environmentally sound policies and practices throughout the hemisphere.

The South Florida Water Management District became a catalyst in moving these concepts from discussion to action. The District is undertaking a multi-faceted restoration project in the Florida Everglades that embodies the best principles of integrated watershed management. This project and other District activities have attracted inquiries and visits from around the world, and especially from Latin America, underlining the need for a new mechanism to facilitate communication, training, and technology transfer. Many other water management authorities have had similar experiences.

Such experiences focused attention on the fact that water management agencies and support organizations must improve their capacity to communicate, cooperate on technology transfer and information exchange, and coordinate water and environmental policies. To this end, support grew for the establishment of an Interamerican Water Resource Network that would focus first on water resource issues in the Western Hemisphere.

The Dialogue was an intrinsic step to the launching of this Network. Participants from 19 countries and many multi-lateral and international institutions assessed plans and priorities; review the results of an international survey of water managers, policy makers, educators, and related user groups; and confirm the policies and structures for the operation of the Network.

Separate caucuses during the first day served as fora to discuss particular issues and positions of the diverse groups and institutions who gathered at the Dialogue. Also, the dialogue served as the setting for conducting a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum and a separate roundtable to discuss technical aspects of the San Juan River dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The NGO Forum took place during the first day of the event. The Forum, facilitated by the Global Tomorrow Coalition and the National Audubon Society, provided a unique and valuable opportunity to continue the NGO dialogue that preceded the 1992 U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit), and that has continued since the Earth Summit, especially as it relates to water management and policy issues in the Western Hemisphere. NGO networking is a positive and an irreversible process that needs continuous strengthening and that is benefited from such fora as the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management.

The Dialogue also provided an opportunity to evaluate ongoing efforts and develop new approaches to the binational management of the San Juan River Basin. Under the auspices of the North-South Center of the University of Miami, a balanced group of Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion facilitated by the University of Florida's Center for Governmental Responsibility.

After extensive discussion of the facts and issues, the San Juan River roundtable participants came to several conclusions. Greatly enhanced cooperation in management of the basin was strongly supported by the group. There was recognition of the need to establish an institutional basis for such cooperation. Rather than seeking to establish new institutional structures, it was agreed that development of cooperative basin management should be pursued through the processes established for management of the Si-A-Paz agreement. To this end, the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Parliamentary Commissions are planning a joint meeting, with part of the meeting to be held in Los Chiles, Costa Rica and part in San Carlos, Nicaragua.

The Interstate Council on Water Policy held its annual business meeting and provided a forum for presentations on water policy issues. As part of the Dialogue, ICWP organized a special session on Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, depicting the role of different federal and state agencies in aquatic restoration efforts and projects to forge partnerships, overcoming obstacles, and reaching for the opportunities in the United States. ICWP brought a wide perspective on water issues that was extremely useful to the overall theme of establishing a true dialogue - an effort to outreach for new and innovative ways for establishing partnerships and exchange of information at all levels of government.

The XVIII Annual Water Management Conference in Florida, which served as the seed for the multi-faceted and international Dialogue, provided the participants an excellent opportunity for the sharing very actual water policy issues particular to Florida. For example, the issue of Permit Streamlining was a model of inter-agency cooperation that attracted the attention of many international participants. Since 1990, the Annual Water Management Conferences in Florida have attracted many international participants, due to the strategic location in reference to Latin America and the Caribbean, Florida's sub-tropical climate, and the state's unique institutional framework comprised by the water management districts.

In preparation for the Dialogue, two case studies were commissioned to compare and contrast water resource management problems from North and South America, and to highlight and elaborate on common goals and strategies. One analogue, developed by the University of Florida's Center for Governmental Responsibility, focused on semitropical wetland systems and provided an in-depth look at the Everglades and the Pantanal. This case study compared the unique and shared characteristics of these great marshland regions, one which has been substantially altered by development and one which is facing similar pressures. A second case study, developed by Colorado State University in conjunction with the Interamerican Center for Environmental and Land Research (CIDIAT, Mérida, Venezuela), featured a comparison of water supply development projects in several cities throughout the hemisphere: Denver, (USA), Sao Paulo (Brazil), and Mérida (Venezuela). These cities, diverse in size, environmental conditions and problems, illustrate the main issues addressed in the roundtable discussions.

The case studies, while examining relevant water resource challenges, underscored the macrocosm of issues inherent in a comprehensive and integrated approach to water management. Beyond the environmental components - the water resource itself, related land issues, habitat and ecosystem concerns - the studies attempted to portray and investigate social, cultural, political, institutional and economic considerations which arc inextricably tied to water management policy and practice. As such, they served to crystallize the need for integrated and watershed-based approaches to water management throughout the hemisphere.

In addition to presenting the case studies, the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management provided a forum for the advancement of technical and institutional knowledge and promotion of sound and sustainable water management practices throughout the western hemisphere. Over 40 papers were presented during the 4-day conference emphasizing the diversity of water resource problems and solutions, emerging problem areas, and financial resource scarcity, many papers were presented under three main roundtable tracks: 1) Management of Aquatic Ecosystems; 2) Water Supply and Sanitation Infrastructure in a Sustainable Development Context; and 3) Water Governance and Policy. The roundtables discussions, professionally facilitated with the help of process design experts, led participants to a pragmatic address of many of the theoretical concerns outlined in Agenda 21 at the Rio Earth Summit:

· Cross-comparisons of water management problems: How do we manage the alteration and use of freshwater systems without degradation or abuse?

· Institutional capacity-building: What are the principles, customs, regulations, training and education needs, laws and values that will enable people to manage water resources in ways that sustain both human needs and natural systems?

· Cross-scale threats: How do we resolve water resource problems when some have their source locally and others a half world away (e.g. global warming, threats to biodiversity, rival trading blocs, transboundary issues involving human and wildlife migrations, regional water competitions and conflicts)?

· Organizational dimension of global change: How do we organize institutionally for cooperative and participatory resource management to ensure sustainable water resources in the future in light of profound world change?

Roundtable participants were challenged to work out an agreed set of principles and priorities for an interamerican partnership that would focus on sustainable development, taking into account the basic tenets that:
· Water is a finite resource that is essential for life on earth.

· Water issues have often been the limiting factors for sustainable development.

· Water is an indispensable integrating component of natural systems management and protection.

· The availability of reasonably priced, high-quality freshwater is a fundamental building block of a competitive and healthy society.

· Water is a “linchpin” product and a renewable resource. It repays for its wise management over and over again in the sheer variety and quality of other goods and services it enhances.

· Water policy and management by their very nature are challenges of multiple use and intergovernmental relations.

Substantive discussions of issues such as these helped participants to identify priorities for the proposed Interamerican Water Resource Network, to define how it can most effectively serve the needs of water resource managers and water policy makers in a wide diversity of countries and regions, and to discuss how it will relate to non-governmental organizations as well as for-profit corporations.

The remainder of the Dialogue was composed of plenary speeches and panels by dignitaries and panelists from non-government organizations, multi-lateral financing institutions, international organizations, foreign governments, and federal, state, and local officials who presented their perspectives on the issue of water resource management, sustainable development and empowerment. Among the keynote speakers were Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida; Rodrigo Carazo, Former President of Costa Rica; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Director of the Earth Council; Thomas Lovejoy, Assistant Secretary for External Affairs of the Smithsonian Institution; Adalberto Gabaldón, Minister of Environment of Venezuela; OAS Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz from Chile; Mario De Marco Naón, President of the National Institute of Water Science and Technology of Argentina; U.S. Representative Carrie Meek of Miami, Florida; Sandra Postel, Vice-President of Research of the Worldwatch Institute; Peter A.A. Berle, President of the National Audubon Society; and Charles Goldman, a renowned limnologist from the University of California, Davis.

President Carazo offered a very interesting perspective on global justice and equity issues as they relate to the environment. Sandra Postel, of Worldwatch, spoke on the issue of water scarcity, pointing out that 40% of the world's people live in river basin shared by more than two countries. She went on to say that in Mexico City, groundwater pumping exceeds natural recharge by 50-80 percent with disastrous consequences. Postel's address highlighted once more the need to share information leading to a sustainable management of the water resource. Thomas Lovejoy spoke on the need share technical information and know-how, but in a sensible manner that would recognize cultural and social peculiarities of the different regions of the Western Hemisphere. In addition, traditional topics such as hydrological and wetlands research, environmental impact assessments, water supply modelling, and water policy were discussed.

The culmination of everyone's effort - the Statement of Miami - was drafted from the discussions in the roundtables and shared with the audience during the final session. Read with eloquence and enthusiasm by Evan Vlachos and responded by Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz and Representative Carrie Meek, the Dialogue ended on a bright Saturday morning, with a room full of people - an audience of more than 200. The participants were given their charge: If we are truly following the lead of the Earth Summit and wish to achieve the principles set forth in Agenda 21, we must see to it that this interamerican water resource network becomes a reality. The Statement of Miami clarifies some of the goals of the proposed network and establishes action steps to accomplish them.

This Interamerican Water Resource Network is conceived as a consortium to facilitate the exchange of information, promotion of cooperation and training among water resource professionals and institutions between North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. Most importantly, the Network will built on existing groups and exchanges - it has been described as a network of networks - taking advantage of existing institutional and technological infrastructures. Under this parameters, the organizers researched existing networks and platforms to build on. One of those systems is called TogetherNet, which is managed and maintained by the Together Foundation for Global Unity. This non-governmental organization headed by Ella Cisneros of Venezuela, has offered a platform for a pilot network called WATERDIALOGUE. TogetherNet has a number of sites scattered throughout the United States, Venezuela, Brazil, and Switzerland. Among the strengths of this particular system is its ease of use and low cost to end users. By the time of publication of these proceedings, a prototype system will be on-line.

Without doubt, the Dialogue allowed participants from diverse latitudes to hear and understand the water problems of each other in this hemisphere. Participants have come to realize with increasing anxiety that the mistakes made and the water management decisions that now are so desperately wished have been made differently, are in danger of being repeated in other areas of the country or elsewhere in the world. In order to prevent this vicious circle, we must act promptly to make water knowledge available and accessible. The lessons, successes, and failures experienced in this sector must be in the public domain if we are to survive as a global community.

Major Conclusions and Recommendations from the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management

At the windup of the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management, the Policy Council convened for the second time to assess and provide their first impressions on the outcome of the meeting. Also, the Council provided directions for future activities related to the follow-up of the conference and the consolidation of an interamerican partnership named the Interamerican Water Resource Network. Details of their conclusions and recommendations are outlined below.

1. Positive Assessment of the Dialogue

Members of the Policy Council generally concurred in a highly positive assessment of the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management, and the opportunities for future progress created by the forum. Among the comments made in this regard were:

· a focus was maintained on the highest priorities of clean drinking water and sanitation;

· able execution of the Interamerican Dialogue opened the possibility for a network that is both “high-tech” and “high-touch”;

· the readiness on all sides to share experience and technology was encouraging;

· superior staffwork and breadth of representation were impressive;

· the Interamerican Dialogue achieved more of its stated expectations than any conference previously attended;

· the outstanding level of representation from Central and South America was a great strength;

· the NGO Forum held on the opening day made a strong contribution, and it will be valuable to keep NGO perspectives involved;

· information flowed in both directions, and it was clear that North Americans already were learning form Latin Americans;

· the round table discussions led to a greater awareness of the number of existing networks already in place;

· good organization and strength of participation reinforced high expectations for the future;

· a sense of trust and mutual respect was established as a foundation for future practical cooperation; and

· the hallmarks if the Interamerican Dialogue were communication, cooperation, and implementation.

2. Criticism and Proposed Guidelines and Directions

A number of Policy Council members also offered constructive criticisms of the Interamerican Dialogue, and suggested guidelines to be observed in taking the next steps. Among these were:

· there is still need for greater clarity in defining the intended clients of the proposed new network, and for close attention to their needs and desires in the shaping of future plans (Note: see related addendum at end of this section for definition of clients);

· the Interamerican Dialogue included too many formal presentations, and did not allow enough time for informal discussions;

· to achieve the desired goal of better communication and information exchange, precision is needed in defining the levels, components, and subjects of the proposed network;

· some self-segregation was still evident at the Interamerican Dialogue among those most interested in development and those most interested in ecosystem protection;

· communication channels for the new network must include mail, telephone, fax, and personal contacts as well as computer-controlled electronic systems;

· it will be extremely important at all times to keep the needs of local people in mind;

· follow-up actions should be quick and demonstrative, emphasizing “high-touch” rather than “high-tech” processes;

· clients of the network can contribute many forms of support, and those resources should be explored before seeking major outside funding;

· the goal should always be to start building on existing networks and institutions, rather than trying to create new ones;

· the frustration in Latin America over access to information is very real, but the information is usually available - the challenge is to find ways to translate and deliver it most effectively, whenever possible working through official channels; and

· the survey of water resource professionals should continue to be used as an ongoing and expanding “inventory” of hemispheric Water resource needs.

3. Scope of Proposed Networks

One viewpoint expressed was that the proposed Interamerican Water Resource Network should immediately provide for the involvement of water resource professionals from around the world, especially from Africa and the Middle East, where water-related issues are already of acute importance. The consensus, however, was that the network must be able to “crawl before it walks,” and that it would therefore be most practical to focus first on the Western Hemisphere. Expansion toward involvement of other world areas could follow as the structures, systems, policies, services, and funding of the network became better established.

4. Opportunities for Future Review and Assessment

Among the suggestions of potential opportunities to expand communication, and enable those interested in the new network to come together and assess progress, were;

· the annual meeting of Florida Water Management Districts in the fall of 1994 in Tampa, to be hosted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which could include a track related to the International Water Resource Network;

· the triennial Watershed Conservation Conference planned for November 1994 in Mérida, Venezuela;

· ongoing collaborative efforts on the San Juan River project;

· the continuing translation and information services of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC);

· national or regional projects such as the Plata Basin, with intergovernmental collaboration encouraged and facilitated through the Organization of American States; and

· the upcoming Summit of the Americas, a meeting of the Heads of State from throughout the Hemisphere to be held in Miami at the end of 1994.

5. Proposal of the Together Foundation for Global Unity

A presentation was made by Ms. Ella Cisneros, Founder and President of The Together Foundation for Global Unity, and Mr. James MacIntyre, Director of The Together Foundation, for the immediate activation of a hemispheric computer-based communication system dedicated to water managers, by building on the established structures and systems of TogetherNet. TogetherNet has offices in the United States in New York, Burlington, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado, and in Latin America in Caracas, Venezuela, with prospects for new communication centers opening soon elsewhere in Latin America. Sources of funding include not only the contributions of the Cisneros family but financial and in-kind donations from Apple Computers, Motorola, Bell South, Pepsi-Cola, and others, as well as modest monthly fees received from users.

This computer network could begin immediately to help meet the needs of information-sharing on water resource issues, while other aspects of the International Water Resource Network (named WATERDIALOGUE) are being developed. Access for users in low-income areas, especially in Latin America, would be encouraged through free hook-ups for up to a total of 30 subscribers initially.

6. Actions by the Policy Council

After discussion, the Policy Council unanimously agreed:

1. To extend the life of the Policy Council as the focal point for next steps in follow-up to the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management, inviting all current members to continue to serve, with the understanding that broadened participation will be encouraged as efforts progress;

2. To meet again at a date to be specified within roughly six months, probably in March/April 1994, and at a site to be specified, probably in Washington, DC, or Miami Florida, USA;

3. To accept the generous undertaking by Mr. Tilford C. Creel on behalf of the South Florida Water Management District that the District will continue to serve as a point of coordination and staff support for the ongoing work of the Policy Council for approximately six months, through the next meeting of the Policy Council; and

4. To accept the forthcoming and constructive proposal of The Together Foundation for the launching of the pilot network system as an immediate next step.

The Policy Council moved by acclamation to commend the South Florida Water Management District for its outstanding leadership in initiating the Interamerican Dialogue on Water Management, and requested that Mr. Donald R. Lesh of the Global Tomorrow Coalition prepare and send a letter on behalf of the Policy Council to Mr. Creel, the members of the Governing Board of the District, and Governor Lawton Chiles expressing gratitude and appreciation.

Several members of the Policy Council also urged that the Global Tomorrow Coalition continue its valuable organizational and convening functions during the next phase. Mr. Lesh confirmed that the GTC would very much look forward to doing so, but would be dependent on the availability of funding.


With reference to the definition of the “clients” of the proposed International Water Resource Network, the agreement of the Policy Council, in its first meeting on May 14-15, 1993, in Miami, Florida, was summarized in this way:

3. Definitions of Clients

To provide focus for the Network, its, “clients” should be understood as water management practitioners, specified in Mr. Henry J. Hatch's formulation as follows:

The principal client base is the array of public and private entities who influence water resource development - to include use, regulation, protection, and conservation. Those entities would include the research, technical, and managerial support base that plans, designs, executes, and operates water resource related activities, as well as the public and private decision makers whose decisions impact on the water aspects of sustainable development.

By this definition, the clients - existing networks, national ministries and agencies, regional/state/local management authorities, and other private institutions - are the principal beneficiaries or users of the services of the Network. Among other valuable resources of the Network will be the continuing input of universities and research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, regional and international authorities (Organization of American States, United Nations agencies, etc.), and other stakeholders with important interests in water-related issues.

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