What kinds of water treaties or agreements between countries can provide sufficient structure and stability to ensure enforceability but also be flexible and adaptable given future uncertainties?

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Key Question Categor(ies):Transboundary Water Issues

From: 2008 Kosi Flood

The breach site for the 2008 flood was in Nepal, and most of the flood impacts there occurred in the Sunsari districts, with about 60,000 people affected. However, a few kilometers downstream, in India, about 3.3 million people were affected in Bihar (Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Araria and Purnia districts). Neither the 1954 or 1966 Kosi Project Agreements addressed the issue of economic responsibility for disasters due to project failure. While flooding had been common along the river prior to the agreements, no mechanism was included to address future flood concerns, disaster response capacity, or economic outcomes or responsibility in case of infrastructure failure.

Additionally, the shifting path of the Kosi and powerful scouring and sedimentation patterns along the river have proved to be a greater challenge than originally envisioned by the engineers who developed the project. The flood control structures have altered the flood regime, but without constant monitoring and maintenance, they are likely to fail again. While the project altered the original flood risks in the region, it has had unintended outcomes that include high maintenance costs and increased risk of catastrophic flood due to structural failures. The Project Agreements address the need to provide maintenance for the structures, but did not identify or address specific needs or provide a mechanism for strong enforcement of the responsibilities of either party.

From: Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant - Issue between Pakistan and India

Attributes that support sufficient structure and stability while supporting flexibility and adaptation to future circumstances:

  1. Clarity about rights and obligations
  2. Time bound framework for settlement of disputes/ objections bilaterally and through party; if bilateral efforts fail in the given time, up front of construction works.
  3. A comprehensive clause in the treatise regarding future cooperation on all matters including but not limited to lacunas in the treaty and future challenges in the interest of the most complete and satisfactory utilization of waters. This will provide flexibility and adaptability for future uncertainties.
  4. Institutional mechanism , such as a joint commission, required to inter alia focus on thinking about and promoting cooperation and regularly preparing a report (say annually) for the governments involved with concrete suggestions to promote cooperations for matters such as elucidated in the question.
  5. Compulsory collection and sharing of data requested by parties, in real time where possible, except for reasons of military defense.
  6. A suitable balance between water sharing and benefit sharing.
  7. Binding nature of Third Party decisions, provided that the Third Party comprises of a panel of 5 to 7 persons instead of a single man.

From: Colorado River Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead

Framing a new agreement to include specific water allocations to parties under a variety of scenarios can ensure resilience of an agreement through uncertain futures. One expert described a “new era” of the Colorado River in which the future hydrology “cannot be reasonably estimated by simply using the available gauge record.” Basin States “acknowledged the potential for impacts due to climate change and increased hydrologic variability” and collaborated on scenario planning in response. The 2007 Interim Guidelines defined specific deliveries to each Basin at stepped storage elevations of the reservoirs. Cognizant of the highly uncertain water supply in the Basin, the Guidelines defined allocations which addressed surplus, normal, and shortage conditions. The Guidelines included further protection from shortage by giving the Secretary of the Interior the authority to take additional necessary actions at critical elevations to avoid Lower Basin shortage as the conditions approach thresholds.

From: Flood Management in Maritsa River Basin

Until this date all agreements between riparians are bilateral and parties did not get involved in an effort to agree on a tripartite treaty or plan to manage and monitor water quantity or quality on Maritsa River basin. Treaties that will include mechanisms to address flood prevention, mitigating flooding risks, setting up early warning systems and concrete rules for data sharing is obligatory. However given the irregularity and unpredictability of the river flows in the basin in the last decade, these mechanisms must not be static and parties must embed follow-up efforts in treaties or agreements to assess the effectiveness of the provisions in the prospective tripartite agreement. First, experts from three riparian states for assessing and resolving technical issues related to flood forecasting, prevention and response must be meet in regular and ad hoc meetings. European Commission technocrats and technical experts from other multiparty European basins authorities facing flooding problems must join these meetings. These meetings must be supported by EU funds under cross-border cooperation programs in order to ensure stability and structure of the agreements. Second, non-governmental and non-technocratic stakeholders from the basin, such as local government representatives of cities with different sizes or farmers unions/cooperatives cultivating lands in the basin must be invited to both intergovernmental and technical meetings. Their inclusion would help decision makers to assess the reliability and effectiveness of any potential tripartite basin-wide flood risk management plans. With including this incentive to evaluate technical decisions with the input of different stakeholders, agreements and treaties retain a certain degree of flexibility and adaptability.

From: Geopolitics of South China Sea: The Arbitral Tribunal

There are existing agreements in place which do necessarily provide useful mobilization for equitable share and development of the South China Sea region due to its rigid and formal structure.

From: Integrated Joint Management Agreements of Mekong River Basin Riparians

Emphasizing data collection in advance of any construction projects, one both sets the hydrographic stage for more efficient planning, and also may establish a pattern of cooperation through relatively emotion-free issues. The insistence of the Wheeler Mission that extensive data-gathering precede any construction made both management and political sense.

From: Management of Fisheries in the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean

The case study is about creation of a legally binding treaty with joint fact finding built into it. This component can help in long term suitability for the agreement

From: Multi-State Approaches to Environmental Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay and Water Diplomacy Framework Opportunities

This case provides examples of interstate voluntary agreements and regulatory approaches in seeking to restore an ecosystem.

From: The Pecos River Compact and Texas - New Mexico Dispute

The Pecos River Compact was designed using a hydrological model based on yearly inflows and outflows rather than fixed quantities, allowing it to continue to apply as environmental conditions changed. Also (though it was a matter of significant contention for Texas) the Compact also allowed room for that model to be improved/updated in later years to make the accounting as accurate as possible.

From: US-Canada Columbia River Management