Georgia's Water Resources Management Law in Need of Reform
In a recent podcast episode of "Guide to Economic Reforms," Mariam Bakhtadze, water resources management advisor of the USAID economic governance program, spoke with Soso Galumashvili, Senior consultant at Gepra. The podcast focused on the challenges facing Georgia's water resources management and the need for a new law to address modern challenges. Bakhtadze highlighted the growing demand for water, the decrease in river flow due to climate change, and the impact on economic sectors. The new law on water resources management, developed with the involvement of Georgian and foreign experts, aims to achieve better water quality and introduces several key innovations to address the challenges.
With only one-third of the population connected to the central sewage system, the demand for water is growing, while the expected decrease in river flow due to climate change will impact economic sectors. Bakhtadze notes that the current water resources management law cannot respond to modern challenges, and a new law is required. One of the main cornerstones of the reform is the draft law on water resources management, which was developed with the involvement of Georgian and foreign experts.
The new law will divide the country into 7 basin units according to hydro-geographical boundaries, aiming to achieve better water quality. Each basin area will have a basin action plan that sets out a set of measures to improve water quality, subject to renewal every 6 years to ensure water quality is improved by at least one level with the implementation of these measures. Basin management coordination councils for each basin will be established, staffed with representatives of the municipality, water users and other interested parties. The council will approve the documents that are subsequently submitted to the government for approval.
An integrated approach to joint management of surface and underground water is also introduced in the new draft law to ensure better water quality and have a positive effect on all users. The new law will return licensing and fees for surface waters to help municipalities fill their budgets and develop. In addition, the law will set a certain period for business entities to carry out various activities, so that their situation does not deteriorate. The amount of water that should remain in the river after water extraction is also addressed. The new law introduces the concept of an environmental cost requirement, which should be regulated by secondary legislation, with an appropriate methodology developed based on international and best experience.
In the process of developing basin management plans during the period of water shortage, the rate of the basin, the water resources in it, and the economic activities there will be determined, based on which prioritization will be determined. The first priority is to provide drinking and household water. Bakhtadze considers the joint use of prioritization and permits as a way to eliminate conflicts related to water consumption.
A final issue highlighted by Bakhtadze is the obligation to assess flood risks. Flood risk zones will be determined within each basin according to the relevant methodology and transferred to the map. These maps will be revised every 6 years, providing an important tool to prevent floods and landslides and minimize risks. Relevant agencies will have access to these maps during the implementation of spatial planning measures or large infrastructural measures.
Georgia will have new legislation for the protection of water resources and improvement of its management, due to the association agreement with the European Union. The reform imposes new requirements and obligations on businesses and the state. The reform is supported by USAID (within the Economic Governance Program), which has signed a memorandum on this issue with Georgian Water and Power (GWP). The new law on water resources management is expected to be approved by the end of the spring session.