Steven Shoniwa
Department of Water Resources
Harare, Zimbabwe


    The management of water in Zimbabwe is going to be changed through the introduction of a new water law. The Zimbabwe Government has established the Water Resources Management Strategy (WRMS) to look into the overall management of water. WRMS realised the need to assess and evaluate the management of water at the lowest possible level through the catchment approach.

    Some catchments will be used as pilot projects on the new catchment approach in which representatives of all water users will be involved. The country will be subdivided into catchments encompassing the various stakeholders (mining concerns, towns, and rural and commercial farms). This is a pilot programme whose main thrust is the formation of Catchment and Sub catchment Boards by ensuring the participation of all user groups.

    This paper gives an overview of what has changed in the past, what will change in the future concerning the land use, water use and the water management structure.

    A lot of dams have been constructed in the country. Persistent droughts have resulted in the dams not filling up anymore. Ground water use is prevalent though the volume of groundwater use is small compared with the surface water use. In drier years borehole s also dry up. In such years the supply of water becomes inadequate and consequently there occur conflicts in water use between the different consumers and between consumers and government.

    It is questionable whether such conflicts can be ridden of, or at least minimised by the proposed catchment approach type of management. This paper aims to come up with:

    An outline of the basic problems underlying the rising conflicts on water in Zimbabwe.

    The report gives some recommendations towards the way forward.


Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with a largely agro-based industry. It lies in the subtropical zone between 180 and 230  parallels. Very few of its rivers are perennial.


The catchment has a moderate climate, which is influenced by altitude and proximity to maritime influences from the Mozambique Channel. The country enjoys 4 seasons in a year. The mean annual temperature for the whole year is 180 C.


There is only one rainy season and it lasts from November to February. This is the summer season and it is characteristically hot and wet mostly from the influences of the Inter Continental Convergence Zone.  The rains are characterized by heavy showers frequently accompanied by thunder and lightning, especially in December and January. Average rainfall is 750 mm/a. The mean summer temperature is 250 C (The State of The Environment Report, Zimbabwe 1992). Farming is most intensive in this period. The crops grown are mainly maize, cotton and soya beans.

Autumn and winter

Autumn is from mid March to May. In normal years, odd rainfall showers are experienced between March and April. The weather begins to get dry by the end of April. Mid to end of May is the start of the winter period. Winter is normally cold at night and warm to sunny during the day. Nighttime temperatures drop to 100 C while during the day temperatures are on average 200 C. The winter period is short (from end of May to end of July). The rest is spring time (August to November). The only crop grown at this time (apart from citrus fruits) is wheat.


Springtime is hot and dry although the onset of the season is windy with mild temperatures. The season starts from mid August to mid November. Mid day temperatures of up to 300 C are not uncommon. Planting of tobacco seedlings starts at the end of October.


The Department of Statistics estimates from the 1992 census that the total population is eleven million (11 000 000) people. The bulk of these people live in communal areas.
Most rivers are not perennial.

The mean annual rainfall in is about 750 mm/a and overall mean annual run-off is 64 mm/a.


Zimbabwe is frequently facing water shortages.

This is partly due to the shortage of rainfall coupled with an increasing water demand and partly due to constraints in water management. It is necessary to give a brief outline of the changes that have taken place in the country in the last 100 years.

Land Types

Zimbabwe has gone through land use changes in the last century (1890 - 1990). There are four types of land tenure systems in this area. These are:

a) Large scale commercial farms

b) Small scale commercial farms

c) Resettlement areas

d) Communal areas

Communal Areas

Regions referred to as communal areas are derived from pre-independence Tribal Trust Lands, which were allocated to subsistence farmers by colonial governments. The British Government had insisted that the British South Africa Company, which was then the authority, set aside land for the exclusive use of the indigenous people. It was this that initiated the legal designation of what they called "native reserves". Over the following 50 years the "reserves" were getting densely populated from growing population pressures and land degradation. There was a deterioration of man-land relationship. With the increased population density and the adverse effect this would have on the natural resources, the administration felt there was now need to apply firmer agrarian reforms and conservation measures.

In 1951 the government agreed on a legal backing, the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA) for the enforcement of conservation measures, the adoption of good farming measures and the replacement of the traditional land tenure system with one based on individual rights. The philosophy was that one would be accountable for any mismanagement of their land. It is interesting to note that it was this Native Land Husbandry legislation which is widely believed to have fueled the rise of African Nationalism. (It disrupted the traditional system of land tenure and created a landless class, which could not be easily absorbed into other sectors of the economy. Young men realized that they no longer had any access to land and the NLHA was an obvious political target. It was abandoned in 1962 because of its political connotations.

Communal areas have the highest population density with an average of 50 persons/(km)2. The farming practices are the poorest. The land features open land with few trees consisting mainly of shrubs. Agricultural production is poor and there are very few irrigation schemes. People live in clusters with little portions of land set aside for cattle, sheep and goat grazing.

Resettlement Schemes

Resettlement areas were created after independence in 1980 by reallocation of commercial farming land to mostly communal people. These areas have more land available for agriculture and cattle grazing than the traditional communal lands. The population density is much better than in the communal lands, with 15 persons/(km)2 (Mhishi, 1995). As these areas were formerly commercial farms the vegetation is still
characterized by patches of forests although these are dwindling to make way for more agricultural land.

Small scale farms

Small-scale farms were established as Native Purchase Areas (NPAs) within the land apportionment Act of 1931. These were small farms (about 90 hectares each) to be held under free title hold. The idea was to encourage the more successful peasant farmer to leave the native reserves to pursue farming independent of traditional tribal tenure (Whitlow, 1988b).

They, like communal areas suffered from lack of manpower and financial support for basic construction and maintenance of conservation works.

Small-scale farms are intermediate between commercial farms and communal areas. In theory they are commercial farms but the practices of the owners coupled with low financial support have rendered them "idle land". There is very little commercial agriculture taking place perhaps because, as mentioned above there was lack of financial support from previous government but also because the tenants lack business acumen (Chitsiko, Agritex 1996).

Commercial farms

The arrival of the colonial settlers in 1890 shaped the course of land use in present day Zimbabwe. Since 1890 when the British South Africa Company's hopes of striking gold faded, they turned to, land initially as payment to soldiers and later as sales to whites for a profit.

The population density in commercial farms is 7 persons/(km)2 (Central Statistics, 1996). Most of these farms are highly developed and use modern machinery and plant. They contribute substantially to the country's economy through the growing of tobacco and flowers for the export market. Tobacco is the country's highest earner of foreign currency. Historically, white commercial farmers have always gotten support from previous governments in the form of soil conservation and construction of dams

Urban Centers

These act as the centers of growth ranging from modern cities to small rural service centers with populations as little as 1000 people.


In recent years the available water in the country has not been sufficient to cover the committed
Water rights. The reason for this discrepancy is not adequately understood. The issue of water has become an emotional issue especially in times of drought.

There have been claims and counter claims that the existing legislation on water favours the older and established consumers and is discriminatory. Some have even described it as impractical and called for its suspension. In times of good rainfall, all is quiet. Once there is a shortage, it seems there is no water at all to share. There is always conflicts arising from insufficient water.

Possible causes

The discrepancy can be attributed to:

The Water Court (which is the final authority in granting water rights) does not know how much water is available and whether it can approve additional applications for water rights. Furthermore the Department of Water Development which is responsible for the administration of water, lacks data for the effective management and prevention of conflicts in water use.


The Zimbabwe Water Act - Basic Principles


Although Zimbabwe was colonized by the English, its legal system fell under Dutch influence because of its proximity to South Africa. The Roman Dutch law recognizes water as a public resource. The Zimbabwe water law affirms this by mentioning that all water, other than private water is vested in the President. It reaffirms that not all water is a public resource by saying that private water is vested in the owner of the land on which it is found and its sole and exclusive use shall belong to such owner. Therefore not all water is treated as a public resource.

The English water law is, in contrary, based on the riparian principle.

In brief, the following basic principles of the Zimbabwe Water Act are summarized.

Water Use

All water in Zimbabwe is governed by the Water Act No. 41 of 1976. The existing act is governed by the following principles:


The Water Act vests all powers for the management and control of water resources of Zimbabwe in the Ministry responsible for Water Resources (currently the Ministry of Rural Resources and Water Development). The Ministry is responsible to the Water Court (Administrative Court).

i) The Water Court

The Water Court is the Supreme Court in terms of handling water disputes.  It falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. The Water Court is responsible for handling all issues relating to water use. It is responsible for hearing and determining: -

ii) The Ministry

The Ministry is responsible for the water management in the catchment through the Department of Water Development (DWD). Administration is through the Provincial Water Engineer. The Water Act has a provision for the establishment of River Boards for the purpose of regulating and supervising the operation of rights to the use of public water.

iii) River Boards

River Boards are formed in accordance with the provisions of the Water Act. Their main functions are:

The financial resources of the River Boards come from levies on members. These levies are based on the rights held. Formation of River Boards is not compulsory. River Boards in most catchments only constitute commercial farmers who have water rights. According to the River Board regulations, only right holders may elect members of the river board. As they are elected by right holders and have the primary function to regulate and supervise the operation of rights to the use of public water, the danger exists that they act in their self-interests.

Communal people are not represented mainly because they do not hold any rights and see the River Board as representing commercial farmers. They may attend meetings if invited, but they have no voting rights. Urban and mining sectors are not represented in the River Boards largely because they see the Department of Water Resources as being responsible for their water supply. They use agreement water and therefore have no rights and hence no voting powers. From the interviews carried out with some stakeholders, the composition of the River Boards contributes to the conflicts in water use

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Existing Act

The Act has inherent weaknesses, which inhibit its proper administration (such as limited participation in management, suspension of water rights in times of shortages etc.). It has been noted that in particular the following are the major shortcomings (Water Act Review Board, 1995):

The country has undergone political, social and economic changes. There is need to change this Act to take account of new developments and trimming to make it more in line with today's happenings.


Zimbabwe went through political changes in 1980 with the attainment of independence from the white minority government to the elected black government of majority rule. The country had been ruled by white colonial settlers since 1890. The rules and regulations governing water in Zimbabwe were inherited from the previous government. The current Water Act was last repealed in 1976. It is generally believed that this law was enacted in almost the dying moments of the last white regime. Therefore its implications were intended to safeguard the interests of the predominantly white minority farmers.

Because of the weaknesses of the water act, new comers in the water sector, (mostly black farmers) cannot have access to this vital resource. This has led to the increasing number of conflicts in water use. Government has taken heed of the concerns of most people and seen it fit to repeal the water act so that there is more equitable distribution and accessibility of water.


Future management is going to be affected by


The essential features of the proposed new changes are

Management; conferring on catchment councils set up to manage the use of water in the catchment areas including the power to issue permits CONCLUSION

The Bill which repeals and replaces the current Water Act has already gone through parliament.

The Zimbabwean economy depends heavily on agriculture. It is therefore necessary that whatever water resources are available they should be equitably distributed for the improvement of the quality of life in a sustainable manner.

An integrated approach to water management requires full participation of the different stakeholders and should take advantage of mistakes and lessons from previous structures. The new management structures should realize that to be most effective, integrated water management will need to operate within a framework which acknowledges technological, economic, sociological and political spheres. The different conflicting parties should now come together and start managing water at the lowest possible level through the catchment approach.
                                        List of References.

Alaerts, G.J., Blair, T.L. and Hartvelt, F.J.A., 1991. A Strategy for Water Sector Capacity Building. Proceedings of the UNDP Symposium, 3-5 June 1991, IHE Report Series No. 24.
IHE, Delft.

Aylen, D., 1939. Soil and water conservation, Rhodesia Agricultural Journal, 36, 12-30.

Christopher, A.C., 1971. Land tenure in Rhodesia, South African Geographical Journal, 53, 39-52.

CIC, 1991. Implementation Mechanisms for Integrated Water Resources Development and Management. Copenhagen Informal Consultation, 1991, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 1995. Resettlement Programme in Zimbabwe Options for the Future. Zimbabwe Farmers' Union.

Gunther, B. 1995. Hydrological Assessment of The Potential Surface Water Resources of Zimbabwe. Unpublished.

Hall, M.J. 1995. Water Resources Management Lecture Notes. IHE, Delft.

Haviland, P.H., 1927. Preventative measures against soil erosion in Southern Rhodesia, South African Journal of Science, 24, 110-116.

ICWE, 1992. The Dublin Statement and Report of The Conference, 26-31 January 1992. International Conference On Water and The Environment, Dublin, Ireland.

IHE, 1993. Water and Environment, Key to Africa's Development, Conference Proceedings. IHE, Delft.

Jaspers, F., 1994. Mupfure Catchment Integrated Water Management Project, Updated Terms of Reference.Unpublished.

Jennings, A.C., 1923. Erosion, especially surface-washing, in Southern Rhodesia. South African Journal of Science, 20, 204-207.

Kabell, T.C., 1984. An Assessment of The Surface Water Resources of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe Government, Government Printer.

Kangai, K.M., 1995. Memorandum on Proposed Amendments to The Water Act, 1976. Ministry of Lands and Water Resources.

Kay, G., 1970. Rhodesia: A Human Geography. University of London Press, London.

Kern, D. 1994., The Carrying Capacity Concept Applied to Water Resources Management. IHE, Delft.

Murton, T.A., 1971. Land use planning in the Tribal Areas of Rhodesia. Rhodesia Agricultural Journal, 68, 3-8.

Natural Resources Board. 1980-1982, 1992 Annual Reports.

Ranger, T., 1985. Peasant Consciousness and Guerilla War in Zimbabwe. Publing House, Harare.

Roder, W., 1964. The division of land resources in Southern Rhodesi. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 54, 41-58.

Savenije, H.H.G., 1995. Water Resources Management Concepts and Tools Lecture Notes. I.H.E., Delft.

Shaw, E.M., 1983. Hydrology in Practice 3 rd Edition. Van Noostrand Reinhold (UK) co. Ltd, 569pp.

Shoniwa, S, 1996. MSc thesis no. H.H. 277 I.H.E. Delft, 1996. Review of Water Resources, Water Use and Water Rights in the Mupfure Basin. IHE, Delft.
Taylor, P., Chatora, C. and Hoevenaars, J.P.M., 1995a. Identification Mission Mupfure Catchment Integrated Water Management. Unpublished.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1994. Integrated Water Resources
Management: Strategic Issues and Options for Action.

Whitlow, J.R., 1988b. Land Degradation In Zimbabwe; A Geographical Study. Natural Resources Board.

Zimbabwe Government, 1998. Water Bill. Government Printer.

Zinyama, L., and Whitlow, J.R., 1986. Changing patterns of population distribution in Zimbabwe. Geojournal, 13(4), p365-384

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             Co-Management of Resources:

By Salman M. A. Salman
The World Bank


 In its journey of about 2,500 kilometers (about 1,600 miles), the Ganges river and its tributaries travel through the Himalayan mountains of Nepal and its borders with China, the hills of northern India, and the plains of Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. As such, the Ganges is an international river to which those four countries, to varying degrees, are the riparian states, despite the fact that the  controversy between India and Bangladesh  portrayed the Ganges as an Indo-Bangladesh river. A number of agreements were concluded between India and Bangladesh on the Ganges river, including the existing treaty that was signed on December 12, 1996. However, those agreements have the limited purpose of dealing mainly with the issue of sharing the waters of the Ganges during the dry season that starts in January and ends in May in every year. It should be pointed out, however, that the problems of the Ganges are far more complex and serious. Such problems include the seasonal variations in the flow of the Ganges which could result in possible catastrophic floods in the rainy season, and disastrous water scarcity during the dry season. To this should be added the fact that the Ganges is one of the most densely populated basins in the world. The seasonal variations in the flow of the Ganges, and the high population density have resulted in serious environmental problems in the Ganges basin. Moreover, the co-management arrangements under the existing treaty are deficient in a number of ways. It should also be pointed out that the existing treaty is between India and Bangladesh, and that there is no agreement encompassing the four riparian states.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss and analyze those problems, and review how they were dealt with under the 1996 treaty, and how they are addressed by India and Bangladesh in their co-management arrangements for the Ganges river.

The Ganges Basin

 Although it is known internationally by the name "the Ganges," it carries this name neither in India, nor in Bangladesh. In India it is called the Ganga, and in Bangladesh the Padma.  The Ganges originates in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh where it is known as the Bhagirathi, and is joined by a number of tributaries originating inside India such as the Yamuna, the Tons and the Gomti.  It is also joined by other tributaries originating in Nepal such as the Kamala and Mahakali, and the Nepal China borders in Tibet such as the Kosi and the Gadnak. After reaching Farakka in the Indian state of West Bengal, the river splits into two: one branch flowing eastward into Bangladesh, and the other southward into West Bengal.  The latter which is known as the Bhagirathi is joined by the Jalangi river, and the combined river is known as the Hooghly river. Calcutta city, the capital of West Bengal and one of India's most important ports, is situated on the Hooghly river.  South of Calcutta, the Hooghly river is joined by the Damodar river and flows into the Bay of Bengal. In Bangladesh, the Ganges, which is known as the Padma, is joined by both the Brahmaputra river, which is known in Bangladesh as the Jamuna river, and also by the Meghna river. The combination of the three rivers, which continues to be called the Padma, splits downstream into a number of  channels, all flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
 The total length of the Ganges is about 2,500 kilometers (about 1,600 miles).  About 80% of the Ganges basin is in India, about 18% in Bangladesh and about 2% is in Nepal and China. The Ganges is the largest river basin in India. It is one of the most densely populated basins in the world, with a total population of more than 300 million, of whom about 10 million are in Nepal, about 40 million in Bangladesh, and the rest, about 250 million, are in India.
Origin of the Dispute Over the Ganges: The Farakka Barrage:
 The origins of the dispute over the Ganges that led to the current emphasis on sharing the dry season flow dates back to 1951. In that year, India decided to construct a barrage across the Ganges river in the state of West Bengal, known as the Farakka Barrage, about ten miles from the borders with Bangladesh.  India contended that the Barrage is needed to divert enough waters from the Ganges river to the Hooghly river to maintain the flow of the Hooghly river by flushing down the slit that deposited there. This, according to India, would make the Hooghly river navigable and Calcutta port accessible, would overcome the problem of salinity and provide water to Calcutta for irrigation, domestic and municipal needs. Work on the Barrage which is about 2,240 meters, started in 1961, and was completed in 1971. The feeder canal was completed in 1975, and the Barrage was commissioned on April 21, 1975.  The Barrage was designed to divert up to 40,000 cubic feet of water per second (cusecs) from the Ganges to the Hooghly. With the lean season flow of the Ganges ranging between 50,000 to 55,000 cusecs during mid-April to early May, this would leave 10,000 to 15,000 cusecs for Bangladesh.

 Both Pakistan (1951-1971), and later Bangladesh, when it came into existence as an independent nation in 1971, opposed the construction of the Barrage. Bangladesh claimed that the entire lean flow of the Ganges of 50,000 to 55,000 cusecs constituted its normal and basic requirements for irrigation, domestic and municipal uses, and any decrease would negatively affect irrigation, water supply, fishery production, groundwater tables and river navigation which is the primary mode of transportation.  As such, the initial approach of both Pakistan and later Bangladesh was that the Barrage would cause appreciable harm by diverting most of the dry season flow of the Ganges away from Bangladesh, and accordingly, India should not proceed with its construction.  However, as construction neared completion making the Barrage a  fait  accompli, and with the geopolitics in the Indian sub-continent in the early to mid seventies, Bangladesh started building its case around equitable utilization of the Ganges waters, demanding a fair share of its waters. The geopolitics in the area which led to  the acceptance of the Barrage by Bangladesh resulted in the first of a series of agreements between India and Bangladesh, which was announced in  Dhaka in the form of a joint press release on April 18, 1975, only three days before the commissioning of the Barrage.

 The agreement dealt basically with the issue of sharing the waters of the Ganges for the remaining 41 days of the dry season (April 21 to May 31) of 1975, and was seen as a test for the working of the feeder canal. Under this agreement Bangladesh received about 75% of the flow for the remaining part of the dry season for that year, while India got only 25%.  However, this agreement was not renewed upon expiry on May 31, 1975. It was followed by a vacuum that lasted until 1977 when the 1977 agreement was concluded, and that agreement lasted until 1982. Upon expiry, it was followed by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was signed in 1982 and remained in force for two years.  A third agreement,  the 1985 MOU was reached in 1985 and lasted for three years until 1988. The eight years between 1988 and 1996 were not covered by any agreement. Finally, the 1996 Treaty was signed on December 12, 1996, and is to remain in force for thirty years. Each of those short term agreements was considered a temporary arrangement during the search for the long term solution of augmenting the flow of the Ganges during the dry season.  However, as we shall see, this solution has not yet materialized.
 The 1975 agreement established two parameters for water sharing which continued to be used in the successive agreements reached between Indian and Bangladesh, including the 1996 Treaty. First, the quantum of water to be released by India to Bangladesh would be at Farakka, and, second, the waters to be withdrawn by India, and those to be released to Bangladesh would be in ten-day periods (with eleven-day periods in the case of the 31 day months) during the dry season that lasts from the first of January to the 31st of May of each year. As such, all the various agreements that were concluded between 1975 and 1996, had the limited purpose of allocating the dry (or lean) season flow of the Ganges between the two countries. During the rainy season (or the monsoon) that usually lasts from June to December of each year, water in the Ganges is abundant, causing in many years serious floods and destruction. During this period, the issue is not sharing the waters of the Ganges, but is rather one of flood control. In addition, high population growth in the basin area of India and Bangladesh, and the low flow of the Ganges have both led to serious environmental problems. The series of agreements concluded between 1975 and 1996, including the 1996 Treaty, did not address in any meaningful sense either of those two problems of flood control and environmental degradation.


Sharing the Dry Season Flow of the Ganges

 The 1977 Agreement continued the approach started in the 1975 agreement and dealt basically with sharing the waters of the Ganges at Farakka between the first of January to the 31st of May for the years 1978 to 1982. The flow reaching Farakka was calculated based on 75% water availability from observed data for the years 1948 to 1973. The flow for each ten-day period, which varied  from one period to another, was divided between India and Bangladesh in an overall ratio of about 40% for India and about 60% for Bangladesh. The allocation, as agreed upon under the Agreement is reproduced in Table 1 hereof.


Sharing of Waters at Farakka Between the 1st January and the 31st May Every Year


Flows reaching  Farakka (based   
on 75% availability from observed data) (1946-73) 
Withdrawal by India at Farakka Release to Bangladesh
      Cusecs      Cusecs         Cusecs  

 In addition, the 1977 Agreement included a clause which guaranteed Bangladesh a minimum of 80% of its share during each 10-day period however low the flow of the Ganges may be during that period. Although the Agreement dealt basically with water sharing arrangements during the dry season, it clearly identified the problem facing India and Bangladesh over the Ganges as one of low flow of the Ganges during the dry season which can not meet the demands of both countries. The Agreement directed the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission to carry out investigations and study of schemes relating to the augmentation of the dry season flow of the Ganges. Unfortunately, the 1977 agreement expired and no agreement on augmentation was reached.

 Both the 1982 MOU and the 1985 MOU between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of the waters of the Ganges reiterated the allocations agreed upon in the 1977 Agreement, with  minor adjustments to some of the figures during some of the ten-day periods, but with the total amounts of water withdrawn by India, and those released to Bangladesh at Farakka, remaining the same. However, the guarantee clause of the 1977 Agreement was not included in either of the MOUs, and more emphasis seemed to have been placed on the study for augmentation. The MOUs, particularly the 1985 one, included more details, and were more optimistic about finding a solution to the problem of augmentation of the flow of  the Ganges during the dry season. However, as we shall see, that optimism did not materialize.

 Sharing of the waters of the Ganges was not regulated by any agreement during the period of 1988 to 1996.  As such the 1996 Treaty was hailed as a landmark and a major breakthrough, not only because it was reached after a gap of eight years, but also because it is to remain in force for thirty years. In addition the Treaty was given political prominence as it was signed by the prime ministers themselves, and not by cabinet secretaries as in the previous agreements.

 Although the Treaty maintained the two parameters stated above, it has altered  the manner in which the Ganges waters would be shared between the two countries.  Annexure 1 to the Treaty (Table 2 below) established a formula which included  thresholds of the water available at Farakka, and the share of each country is stated either  as a percentage, or as an amount,  of that threshold, as follows:

Availability at   Farakka Share of India Share of Bangladesh
70,000 cucecs or less 50% 50%
70,000-75,000 cusecs Balance of flow 35,000 cucecs
75,000 cusecs or more 40,000 cusecs Balance of flow
*Subject to the condition that India and Bangladesh each shall receive guaranteed 35,000 cusecs of water in alternate three 10-day periods during the period March 1 to May 10.

 In addition to the above formula, Annexure II to the Treaty included an indicative schedule (Table 3 below) of the share of each country between the period of January 1, to May 31, of each year.


 The opening paragraph of the schedule states that if actual availability corresponds to average flows of the period 1949 to 1988, the implication of the formula in Annexure I for the share of each side is:
          1            2             3             4
     PERIOD Average of total flow 1949-88     India's Share  Bangladesh's Share
Jan:     1-10   
Feb:     1-10   
Mar:      1-10   
Apr:      1-10   
May:     1-10   
       (*Three ten-day periods during which 35,000 cusecs shall be provided).

  On comparing the share of each country under the previous agreements and the Treaty, it is worth noting that the share of Bangladesh has decreased from about 60%  under the 1977 Agreement and each of the 1982 and 1985 MOUs, to about 52% under the Treaty.  Correspondingly, India's share increased from about 40% under the 1977 Agreement, and the 1982 and 1985 MOUs  to about 48%  under the Treaty.
Actual Water Availability - Experience of the 1997 and 98 Dry Seasons
 One of the important features distinguishing the previous agreements and the Treaty is the basis for calculating the flows of the Ganges reaching Farakka during the dry season. Under the previous agreements, the average flows of the Ganges reaching  Farakka was based on 75% water availability from observed data for the 25 year period between 1948 to 1973.  Under the Treaty, the figures under the indicative schedule are based on the average total flow (and not 75% availability) of the Ganges during the 40 year period between 1949 to 1988.   As a result, the average total flows of the Ganges  under the Treaty for each ten-day period exceeds the average flow under the previous agreements for the same period by a margin of almost 10% for each such period, which means that the Treaty assumed a higher level of water availability than the previous agreements.

 However, as it turned out a few months after the Treaty was concluded, actual availability during the first dry season of the Treaty of 1997 was far less than the average flow of the Ganges for the period 1949-1988, as reiterated in the indicative schedule under the Treaty. The first reports of a decline in the flow of the Ganges at Farakka started circulating during the last ten days of February 1997, when the flow was supposed to favor Bangladesh. During that period, Bangladesh stated that it had received only 24,559 cusecs, instead of 39,106 cusecs stipulated in the Treaty.  The situation became quite serious in late March, and on March 27, the Ganges flow in Bangladesh recorded only 6,500 cusecs, the lowest ever.  By early April, the flow kept fluctuating between 10,000 and 25,000 cusecs,  and by early May water availability at Farakka was only about 40,000 cusecs, instead of the 67,351 cusecs specified in the Treaty.   It is ironic to note that this substantially low flow occurred during the period in which " ... India and Bangladesh shall receive guaranteed 35,000 cusecs of water in alternate three 10-day periods...,"   and the indicative schedule under the Treaty shows the average availability of more than 60,000 cusecs. The first dry season under the treaty ended with mixed results: a reasonable flow of the Ganges during the beginning and end of the dry season, and an unusually low flow during the middle period of the dry season.

 The 1998 dry season was the opposite of the 1997 season. Abundant rain in the upper reaches of the Ganges caused the water level, as measured at the Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh, to reach unprecedented measurement, reaching in some ten-day periods as high as three times what was anticipated under the Treaty. Table 4 below specifies both, the share of Bangladesh under the Treaty, and the amounts of water actually received at the Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh.

 Flow of the Ganges in Bangladesh During the 1998 Dry Season
              DATE OF  
Share of BANGLADESH   
(as per agreement incusec)
Received at the point of measurement in cusec
01-10    JANUARY  
01-10     FEBRUARY  
01-10     MARCH  
01-10     APRIL  
01-10     MAY  

 The drastically low flow of the Ganges during the 1997 dry season, and the unusually high flow during the 1998 dry season clearly underscore the unpredictability of the Ganges river, and the need for measures for regulating such flow to make it predictable. The Treaty, like the previous agreements, includes provisions recognizing the need for cooperation in finding a solution to the long term problem of augmenting the flow of the Ganges during the dry season. However, no concrete measures, plans or schedule are included in  the Treaty.

 The Treaty establishes a committee consisting of equal number of representatives nominated by the two governments, called the Joint Committee. The Committee is authorized to set up suitable teams at both Farakka in West Bengal, and Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh, to observe and record at Farakka the daily flows below Farakka Barrage, in the Feeder Canal, and the Hardinge Bridge.  The Committee is also authorized to decide on its own procedures and method of functioning, and is required to submit to the two governments all the data collected, in addition to an annual report. The Treaty requires the two governments to meet at appropriate levels, following submission of such reports, to decide upon any further action as may be needed.

 The main responsibility of the Committee is implementation of the arrangements agreed upon under the Treaty, "...and examining any difficulty arising out of the implementation of those arrangements, and of the operation of the Farakka Barrage."  If the Committee failed to resolve any difference or dispute, then under the previous agreements, such difference or dispute would be referred to the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission.  If the Commission fails to resolve such a difference or dispute, then the Treaty directs that the matter "... be referred to the Governments which shall meet urgently at the appropriate level to resolve it by mutual discussion."  As such, the parties opted for political means, and not arbitration, as the method for resolving any difference or dispute arising out of  the implementation of the Treaty. Clearly, the Joint Committee had limited powers. When the flow of the Ganges fell drastically during 1997, the Committee was not able to provide or propose any solution, and the absence of arbitration clauses in the treaty did not help Bangladesh either.
 More than three hundred million people live and depend on the Ganges basin for water for irrigation, domestic and municipal supply. The Ganges is also a major source for fishery, and an important mode for transportation, particularly in Bangladesh. In India it is considered the holiest river, and millions of people practice the holy dip hundreds of times every year, while ashes of a large number of dead bodies are scattered there too. This heavy population concentration, and the absence of strict environmental rules, and the failure to enforce whatever rules that exist, have resulted in the Ganges being one of the most polluted rivers in the world today. "114 cities pour untreated sewage into India's most important river, the Ganges. Its Yamuna tributary picks up a daily 200 million litres of sewage and 20 million  litres of industrial waste in Delhi alone. In the Industrial city of Kanpur, only 3 factories out of 647 have treatment plants."   At the holy city of Varanasi, the water of the Ganges " filled with raw sewage, human and industrial waste, the charred remains of bodies, and animal carcasses...... Not surprisingly, waterborne illnesses - hepatitis, amebic dysentery, typhoid, and cholera - are common killers, helping to account for the deaths of more than two million children each year."  Waterborne diseases caused by the flooding of 1988, and 1998 resulted in a large number of casualties too.

 Bangladesh's "White Paper on the Ganges Water Dispute" described a number of negative environmental consequences for the reduced flow of the Ganges as a result of the diversion of the Ganges waters through the Farakka barrage.  Those consequences, according to this Paper, included negative hydraulic consequences on other rivers, reduction on groundwater levels, salinity intrusion and reduction in agriculture and forestry output in the affected area. The Indian government replied to Bangladesh's claim, dismissing all of them, in its Paper on "The Farakka Barrage."  It might be recalled that India had listed arresting salinity as one of the reasons for the Farakka Barrage. The agreements concluded between India and Bangladesh over the Ganges did not address any of the issues related to environmental protection of the Ganges.  The main concern of the two parties, during the  rounds of negotiations preceding each of the five agreements reached, was the quantitative allocation of the waters of the Ganges.  Clearly, all those environmental problems were overshadowed by the emphasis on the quantitative allocation of the waters of the Ganges.

 As we have seen in the previous parts, the agreements reached between India and Bangladesh dealt only with sharing the waters of the Ganges during the dry season that lasts from January to May. During this period the average flow of the Ganges ranges between 60,000 to 70,000 cusecs. None of the agreements addressed the issues emerging during the rainy season that lasts from July to December when the flow usually  averages about 400,000 cusecs, with the high recorded flow of 2.58 million cusecs.   The severe floods of 1988 had disastrous effects on Bangladesh which have only been surpassed by the floods of 1998. Bangladesh blamed the increases in the 1988 floods on India releasing water stored by the Farakka Barrage.  The situation in 1998 was the worst ever, with floods continuing for more than two months, from the middle of July until late September, and with the Ganges rising "to its highest level in 100 years."  Three quarters of Bangladesh, including at least 860,000 hectares of agricultural lands, and more than half of Dhaka, were submerged by flood waters, and more than 40 million people were affected by the floods.   The death toll passed 1,000 by late September, and diarrhea, " ... caused by polluted water or rotten food, led to 208 of the deaths."  By mid October "Diarrhoea has killed at least 600 people and hundreds of new cases were being reported daily. Almost 500,000 people have been afflicted by the disease since the start of the summer flooding."

 It is noteworthy that the 1996 Treaty mentioned in the preamble, for the first time,  flood management as one area in which the parties are interested.  However, no specific steps are laid down in the Treaty, nor have any joint actions been agreed upon.

Augmentation of the Flow of the Ganges
 Although all the agreements between India and Bangladesh have had as their main objective the allocation of the available water between them, the parties have from the time of the commissioning of the Farakka Barrage realized that there is simply not enough water for their competing demands and needs. The two governments identified and recorded in the 1977 Agreement  the problem they were facing as being  the low flow of the Ganges river during the dry season, and  recognized the need to cooperate with each other in finding a way for augmenting the flow during such dry season. Using the  broad mandate of the Joint Rivers Commission, the two governments, under the 1977 Agreement, entrusted the Commission with the responsibility of carrying out investigations and study of schemes relating to the augmentation of the dry season flow of the Ganges river, and presenting its recommendations to the two governments within a period of three years.   Unfortunately, no agreement was reached during the life of the 1977 agreement.

 The idea of a joint study for the augmentation the flow of the Ganges during the dry season was addressed again in more details in each of the two MOUs of 1982 and 1985.  However, the joint study was not carried out because of the failure of the representatives of the two governments in the Joint Committee of Experts established under the 1985 MOU to arrive at common grounds for this study.  As regards the scheme for augmenting the flow of the Ganges at Farakka, each side had a different proposal.  India's  proposal consisted of  a plan to construct a link canal to connect the Brahmaputra river with the Ganges river at a point above the Farakka Barrage. The link canal, according to the plan proposed by India, would  augment the Ganges flow during the dry season by diverting water to the Ganges river from the Brahmaputra river. This proposal was rejected by Bangladesh, who feared the environmental, social, political and economic consequences of the proposal. Bangladesh was also concerned that the link canal may further exacerbate the flood situation in the country during the monsoon season. Instead, Bangladesh proposed building storage reservoirs at the upper reaches of the Ganges in both India and Nepal to store water during the monsoon season, for release during the dry season.  In turn, this proposal was rejected by India who wanted to reserve the upstream waters of the Ganges for its future needs. Moreover, India preferred the bilateral approach and did not want to regionalize the issue by involving another riparian, in this case Nepal.   It is worth noting that India's proposal centered around using  the Brahmaputra to solve the problems of the Ganges, whereas Bangladesh's proposal aimed at using the Ganges itself to solve the problems of the Ganges. Bangladesh who has suffered tremendously from floods, viewed the building of the reservoir in the upper reaches of the Ganges not only as a solution to the problem of low flow of the Ganges during the dry season, but also to the problem of floods during the rainy season. One reason for Bangladesh's rejection of India's proposal of the link canal is the fear that it may exacerbate the flood situation in the country.

 The 1996 Treaty included a reference to augmentation the flow of the Ganges in both the preamble and in Article VIII, but no detailed provisions are included in the Treaty. Realizing the impasse, and that the gap between the two proposals is unbridgeable, Bangladesh has started developing its own options for augmenting the dry season flow of the Ganges by reviving the idea of the Ganges Barrage.
The Ganges Barrage
  One of the long outstanding issues between India and Bangladesh related to the Ganges river is the issue of the Ganges Barrage that Bangladesh has been seeking to build on the Ganges river since 1963.  Bangladesh has sought to build the Ganges Barrage to store the wet season flow of the Ganges for use during the dry season. India had in the past opposed the construction of the Ganges Barrage and saw it as a retaliatory measure against the Farakka Barrage, and claimed that large areas of Indian territory would be submerged as a result of back-water effect. Following the conclusion of the Treaty and further discussion on the Barrage, specially its location,  India has agreed to the construction of the Barrage by Bangladesh. Bangladesh now plans to build this Barrage at Pangsha, 90 miles west of Dhaka, and presents the Barrage as the best way for guaranteeing the success of the Treaty because the Barrage would enable Bangladesh to utilize its share of the water. According to the feasibility study for the Barrage:

 " - The Barrage would allow Bangladesh to make optimum use of the water that would be available under the Ganges Water Treaty, December, 1996.
  -  The Ganges river is the main potential source of surface water in the Southwest (SW) and South Central (SC) regions.  With the construction of the Ganges Barrage, the irrigated area will cover most of the SW and the SC and North Western (NW) regions.
 -  Water supplies through the Gorai river will reduce saline intrusion around Khulna which will help solve the existing socio-economic and environmental impacts of the areas.
 -  Augmentation of the flows in all distributories and other rivers in the South-West region so that natural environment can be restored with regards to fisheries, navigation, ground water forestry and human health through supply of upland flow and reduction in salinity."

  The Barrage is expected   "... to irrigate an area of about 1.35 million hectare of land, and to protect another 1.44 million from floods ..."   Bangladesh also hopes that the Barrage will assist in reducing salinity caused by intrusion of the waters of the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has officially sought financial assistance for building the Barrage from a number of bilateral and multilateral donors. As such, Bangladesh views the Ganges Barrage as a solution to (i) the dry season flow of the Ganges, (ii) the frequent floods that create havoc throughout the Ganges basin in Bangladesh, and (iii) the environmental problems that resulted from the diversion of the Ganges water through the Farakka Barrage, including the problems of salinity, low groundwater tables, forestry and fishery production.  It is perhaps too early to speculate on the role that the Ganges Barrage may play in solving any of those problems as the technical and environmental studies are still under way. It also remains to be seen whether the funds needed for constructing the Ganges Barrage can be raised.

 The preceding parts of the paper attempt to highlight the main challenges that India and Bangladesh face in the co-management of the shared resource of the Ganges basin. Those challenges, as we have seen, include water scarcity, floods, environmental degradation, and a joint committee with a limited mandate. Moreover, all the agreements, including the Treaty, are bilateral arrangements between India and Bangladesh, and neither Nepal nor China are parties to any of them.

However, although the Treaty deals with the limited purpose of allocating the flow of the Ganges during the dry season, the Treaty has provided the momentum for discussing and resolving the other problems too. The Joint Rivers Commission has met for the first time since the expiry of the 1985 MOU, and discussions are taking place on issues related to the other joint rivers, and floods.  Furthermore the Treaty has paved the way for an agreement on the Ganges Barrage, and ended India's opposition to the idea of the Barrage.  If the idea of the Ganges Barrage materializes, it could assist in dealing with some of the main challenges of the Ganges, and could end the futile discussion between India and Bangladesh on a joint plan for augmenting the flow of the Ganges during the dry season.
                                           ;       ***
  Senior Counsel, Legal Department, The World Bank. The views expressed in this Paper are those of the author, and should not be read to reflect the views of the World Bank.
  For a detailed history of the Farakka Barrage and the dispute, and for the arguments of each country, see (i) Ben Crow, Sharing the Ganges - The Politics and Technology of River Development, Saga Publications, (1995); (ii) Sunil Sen Sarma, (editor) Farakka - A Gordian Knot, Problems on Sharing the Ganga Water; Asit Sen Publications, (1986); (iii) B. M. Abbas, The Ganges Water Dispute, University Press, Dhaka, (1982);  and (iv) B. G. Verghese, Waters of Hope, Integrated Water Resource Development and Regional Cooperation within the Himalayan-Ganga-Brahmaputra-Barak Basin, Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, (1990).
  Apparently the year 1988 was chosen because it was the last year in which daily flows of the Ganges at Farakka were observed and recorded by the India/Bangladesh Joint Committee under the 1985 MOU.
  See Dialogue (Newspaper) Dhaka, April, 14, 1997, page 5. See also, Asadullah Khan, Implementation of the Ganges Treaty, a View from Dhaka, in People's Review Newspaper, Bangladesh, May 8, 1997, Opinion page, where it was stated   "In the last ten days of February, 39,106 cusecs of water should have been available at the Hardinge Bridge point.  But Bangladesh got 27,906 cusecs on 22nd of February, 23,094 cusecs on the 23rd Feb., 22,295 cusecs on 24 Feb., 25,654 cusecs on the 25th Feb., 23,006 cusecs on 26th Feb., and 24,559 cusecs on 27th Feb., and on March 27, the flow was lowest in recent times, recording 6,457 cusecs."
  See the New York Times (Newspaper),  Sunday, May 25, 1997, page 6. The figure of 6,500 cusecs for March 27th appeared in a number of newspapers.
  Reuters report from Dhaka dated April 4, 1997.
  Supra note 4, page 5.
  Annexure I to the Treaty. This paragraph is unusual in that it does not specify who is the guarantor that such amounts will actually be delivered.  Once the availability came down to such low level, the inoperativeness of the guarantee became discernible.
  Minister of Water Resources submission to the Parliament in Bangladesh on June 14, 1998; original copy, in Bengali, available on file with the author.
  Article VII of the Treaty.
  Article VII of the Treaty.
  See Peter Wallensteen and Ashok Swain "International Fresh Water Resources: Conflict or Cooperation"  Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources Series, Stockholm Environment Institute, page 6, (1997).
  Alexander Stille, The Ganges' Next Life, The New Yorker, January 19, 1998, pages 58 and 60. The article discusses the reasons for the failure of the first phase of the cleanup project called the Ganga Action Plan.
  See Ben Crow, supra note 2, at 124. See also R. Goodland, Environmental Assessment of Decreased Ganges flow in Bangladesh, International Engineering Company (April 1977).
  See Ben Crow, suprs note 2, at 124.
  See Goodland, supra note 12, at 8.
  See Ben Crow, supra note 2, at 212-213.
  See Asiaweek, Volume 24, Number 37, September 18, 1998, page 13.
  See Asiaweek  Volume 24, Number 35, September 4, 1998, page 6.
  See Far Eastern Economic Review, Volume 161, NO. 40, October 1, 1998, page 17.
  See Far Eastern Economic Review. Volume 161, NO. 42, October 15, 1998, page 16.
  See Articles VIII and IX of the 1977 Agreement.
  For discussion of the proposal of each country for augmentation of the dry season flow, see Ben Crow, supra note 2. See also, "Water Resources Cooperation in the Ganges - Brahmaputra River Basin"  Policy Research Project Report Number 101, Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas at Austin (1993).
  Bangladesh had initially sought to build the Ganges Barrage at the current location of the Hardinge Bridge, close to the Indian borders. However, the current proposed  location is at Pangsha, about 40 miles down stream from the Hardinge Bridge, and as such further down stream than the Hardinge Bridge from the borders with India.
  See, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Technical Assistance Project Proforma (TAPP) for the Feasibility Study and Detailed Engineering Design of the Ganges Barrage Project, May 1997, Recast, June 1997, page 6.
  See Reuters report from Dhaka, August 24, 1997, quoting the Minister of Water Resources of Bangladesh, following a meeting with the President of the Asian Development Bank in Dhaka. The figure f  "1.35 million hectare" is close to the figure of  "1.31 million hectare" specified in the TAPP, supra id.

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   New Groundwater Discoveries as a Mechanism
        for  Regional Water Conflict Resolution

Authors: Robert A. Bisson iKermit Roosevelt ii; and Sabine Sisk iii

 EarthWater Technology International Inc.
Groundwater exploration and development.


Mankind's understanding of the actual movement of water through the Hydrologic Cycle, once it falls from the sky, did not improve appreciably from Galileo's time until the advent of the Space Age. Over the past several decades, the same new geological concepts and technologies which have caused quantum leaps in the oil, gas & minerals industries have produced comparable breakthroughs in our comprehension of the collection and transport mechanisms of water through the earthbound side of the Cycle.

Investigators using modern exploration concepts and methods now conclude that we have not begun to reach the limits of renewable groundwater supply, but rather we have exceeded the limits of traditional concepts and conventional technologies to delineate these vast and complex water sources.

The availability of new groundwater development technologies and concurrent emergence of a free market valuation of  potable water is certain to result in  major new discoveries of indigenous sources of renewable fresh water in  countries experiencing water shortages.

Regions of the world that today are limited in development potential because of shortages of usable water and limited financial resources will be transformed by the widespread use of the new paradigm, techniques and technologies described in this paper.

So long as groundwater resource quantities and geographic boundaries remain a mystery to traditional groundwater hydrologists, nation building and  diplomatic solutions to water issues will be impeded.   Diplomats must have confidence in their information base for consensus building.


Throughout history  new technologies have extended man's abilities beyond the physical reach of the five senses and have led to dramatic changes in mankind's view of his world. The telescope  permitted scientists to observe outer space and changed  forever the image that the established scientific community had of Earth's place in the dynamic of the solar system, while the microscope led researchers to overcome  conventional beliefs about  the origin of diseases. This century's "electronics revolution" and "space age" have opened another historical window of opportunity for new discoveries.
For the past twenty-five years, Earth-orbiting satellites have provided  insights into the dynamics of regional complex natural systems, including regional characteristics of the hydrologic cycle. The  "Megawatershed" phenomenon, first observed in NE Africa in the 1980s 1 2 3 4 and formally reported in 1989 - 1990 5 6, contains within it the water balance equation of traditional watersheds but greatly extends catchment, transmission and storage boundaries by recognizing the overriding influence of large scale fracture permeability in defining the hydraulics and  hydrology of a basin.     The implications of new groundwater discoveries with regard to historical estimates of renewable water supplies are substantial, potentially representing a factor of two times or more current calculations in some regions, translating into hundreds of millions of cubic meters per year of sustainable, affordable fresh water under water-short countries.

There is substantial evidence that megawatershed systems exist worldwide,  in areas as geographically diverse as the Pampa del Tamarugal Basin of Northern Chile 7, the Nubian sandstone aquifers of Northern Africa 8 , the extensive rift systems of  the Levant 9 10 , Mexico's Yucatan 11 and the Carbonate Province of America's Great Basin 12.    The challenges facing exploration scientists seeking to discover renewable groundwater in such complex natural systems are not without precedent, since oil, gas and mineral exploration scientists have successfully integrated space-age concepts and technologies to comparably  increase the known reserves of those precious commodities.

In like fashion a US team of exploration scientists investigated the attributes of the Megawatersheds in various parts of the world using an innovative deep groundwater exploration program (Fig. 1).   The scientists discovered megawatershed environments in Africa and the Middle East using regional satellite image-maps and ground investigations to identify high-yield groundwater zones 13.


Figure 1  Megawatersheds and Space-Age Groundwater Exploration Technology
A Paradigm Shift :   From "Watershed" to "Megawatershed"

The traditional "watershed" model  is a synthetic drainage basin reflecting convenience rather than reality.  A typical example  can be seen in the 1970 USGS map (Fig.2) of the hydrographic basin boundaries of the carbonate rock province pervading Nevada, Utah, California and Idaho.

Drainage and water balance were assumed to be controlled entirely by local topography, identified through topographic maps and aerial photographs, and traditional watershed maps largely ignore the hydrologic implications of underlying geologic structures on rainfall capture and drainage.    Groundwater resources found deeper than 100 meters have traditionally been considered unreliable or fossil 14  and are excluded as active parts of the water balance,  because they are deemed to be hydraulically isolated and noninteractive with watershed catchments 15.


Figure  2    USGS 1970 Traditional Watersheds Map of Nevada

The  "Megawatershed " is a new paradigm which  correctly describes natural water catchment  and drainage as interrelated, three-dimensional  surface and subsurface "zones", rather than traditional, artificial, functionally two-dimensional areas.  In other words, the Megawatershed paradigm fills in the data necessary to properly use the water balance equation but greatly extends the catchment area and quantities of water actively recharged to deep aquifers from precipitation, transmission and storage boundaries of traditional watersheds by recognizing the overriding influence of tectonically induced, large scale fracture permeability in defining the hydraulics and  hydrology of a basin 16 .

Burbey, et al 17 of the illustrate this in their dramatically revised "watersheds" map demonstrating regional groundwater flow in a southwest USA carbonate rock province  (Fig. 3).


Figure 3    USGS 1991 Revised Watersheds Map of Nevada Reflecting Deep, Regional Groundwater Flow Characteristics of Megawatersheds (Burbey and Prudic 1991)

Improved understanding of groundwater environments gained from the megawatershed  model,  permits significant upward adjustments to estimates for the  water resource.  It recognizes substantial interaction of rainfall with surface water, shallow aquifers and fractured bedrock aquifers.      Megawatersheds are hydraulic continua, with surface and subsurface water drainages strongly controlled by regional fault and fracture zones in the bedrock, as illustrated by the (Fig. 4 ) perspective view of the megawatershed attributes of a typical surface valley "basin" in the Nevada carbonate rock province.

Figure 4:   Part of a Megawatershed System in Nevada (Bisson 1992)

Megawatershed systems exist  worldwide - from the Pampa del Tamarugal Basin of Northern Chile, to the Levant  and the Carbonate Province of America's Great Basin.  Aquifers in these regions derive their characteristics from the interaction of climatic and hydrometeorological conditions with the regional geology.

The megawatershed concept is of particular importance in arid regions.     Jane's Intelligence Review (1992)  reports  "...the potential  for supplies represented by such a large, natural water collection and transmission system could be at least as significant as the combined surface water resources of the region [10]".

The traditional perception of deep aquifers is that they only contain "fossil" waters and that, like oil reserves, these aquifers are essentially non-renewable.  Pumping water from them depletes the supply in the same way that extractions from an oil well do." [14].  This conclusion is based on oversimplified, artificial models which do not reflect the realities of natural, highly complex hydrogeologic and hydrometeorological environments.

Investigators around the world have for decades observed that aquifer pumping tests and determination of age, temperatures and chemistries of water samples from deep bedrock  aquifers are not always consistent with "fossil water" theories. Rather, many investigators have found deep bedrock aquifers to be heterogeneous in nature, reflecting strongly the influence of fracture permeability in the age and chemistry in the water, as well as response to withdrawals [7, 8 ].

When brittle, porous bedrock basins (e.g. sandstone) are fractured by tectonic forces,  younger  waters will flow from active recharge zones through environments saturated with interstitial fossil waters.  This was confirmed by Magaritz et al [7]  through isotopic, chemical, temperature and geological evidence in the deserts of Northern Chile.

Formal studies of groundwater relationships to bedrock fractures date back at least to 1835 when Hopkins listed his observation of rectangular arrangements in topographic features, faults, mineralized veins, joints and alignment of springs 18.

At the onset of the space-age, O. R. Angelillo, a professor of engineering at CalTech and a pioneer in the study of tectonics, regional rock mechanics and underground water flows,  graphically described a stress-field induced and fractured-rock groundwater system in his regional analysis of the Mojave basin. Angelillo presented his maps and report 19 to the State of California in 1958.

In the 1970s and 80s, results of exploration programs using space images and modern geologic mapping methods, carried out in the USA and East Africa by Bisson et al [4], showed that the effects of tectonic controls on hydraulic conductivity are related to regional groundwater flows through fractured rock.   A conceptual exploration model of the Megawatershed Phenomenon was first presented by Bisson and El-Baz in Trieste in 1989 20  .


At the beginning of this century, projections by leading geologists about future supplies of oil, gas and minerals were quite pessimistic.   Most of the world's reserves were  believed to be known, and their production potential so limited that scarcities were certain to arise during this century.  Today, however,  oil, gas and mineral reserves are at an all time high as the result of conceptual breakthroughs, and advances in exploration and extraction technologies.  An array of new sensors have radically changed exploration success/failure rates, and the time for future shortages is now set for the second half of the next century or beyond.   This key transformation of outlook is the result of both conceptual breakthroughs and advances in exploration and extraction technologies.  New paradigms have transformed the understanding of mineral bearing structures.  New survey tools have permitted more accurate models of subsurface transport mechanisms and accumulation forces.  New integrating technologies, such as digital geographic information systems (GIS),  provide the knowledge base for integrated water resources management and environmentally sustainable economic development.
Today, fresh water is recognized as an "economic mineral" of high direct and indirect economic value.  With this realization, the geologic concepts and integrated suite of techniques and technologies that

permit improved exploration for oil, gas and minerals also prove applicable to the problem of finding and developing sustainable water resources, especially in arid regions.

Regions of the world that today are limited in development potential because of shortages of usable water and limited financial resources will be transformed by the widespread use of the new paradigm, techniques and technologies described in this paper.   The long-term importance of such a change  in water availability is hard to overestimate as a transforming influence on public health, economic prosperity and peaceful cooperation.
Implications for Water Conflict Resolution

Hydrologists and water resources management specialists have endeavored for many decades to resolve the uncertainties associated with the interaction and continuity of surface and groundwater, as conventionally defined within the "watershed" and "aquifer" systems.  Surface water continuity frequently  extends visibly across international boundaries, creating added complexities to the search for interstate compacts.  Groundwater resource quantities and geographic boundaries remain a mystery to traditional groundwater hydrologists and impede nation building and  diplomatic solutions to water issues.   Diplomats must have confidence in their information base for consensus building.  


[i] Groundwater exploration scientist and President of EarthWater Technology International, Inc.

[ii] Washington DC attorney, Middle East specialist and Chairman of EarthWater Technology International, Inc.

[iii] International business consultant and Executive VP of EarthWater Technology International, Inc.

[1] Bisson, R.A., Regional Groundwater Development Feasibility Study for Northern Sudan, USAID BCI-Geonetics, Inc. Report, 1987.

[2] Bisson, R.A., Hoag Jr. R.B., Ingari J. and DeMars, R.M., Report on regional Groundwater Exploration and Test Well Drilling Results for Northern Somalia, BCI Geonetics, Inc. USAID Report, 1995.

[3] Bisson, R.A., Hoag Jr. R.B., Ingari J. and DeMars, R.M., New Water and Economic Prosperity in the Red Sea Province of Sudan. Series of Three Technical Reports for the U.S. Agency for International Development. 1989,90.

[4] Bisson, R.A., Hoag Jr. R.B., Ingari J. and DeMars, R.M., New Water and Economic Prosperity in the Red Sea Province,f Sudan.
Technical Feasibility Report and test and Production Well Plan. BCI Geonetics, Inc. and USAID. April, 1990.

[5] Bisson, R.A. and El-Baz, F., The Megawatersheds Exploration Model. Proceedings of International Conference on Desert Environments. Trieste, Third World Academy of Sciences, 1989.

[6] Bisson, R.A. and El-Baz, F., The Megawatersheds Exploration Model. In: Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Remote-Sensing of Environment, Environmental Research institute of Michigan. 1990

[7] Magaritz, Aravena, M. Pena, R.H. Suzuki, O. and grilli, A., Source of Ground Water in the Deserts of Northern Chile: Evidence of Deep Circulation of Ground Water from the Andes. Ground Water, 1990. v.28, no. 4.

[8] Alam, M., Water Resources of the Middle East and North Africa, With Particular Reference to Deep Artesian Ground Water Resources of the Area. Water International, 1989.

[9] Bisson R.A., Page L.R., Hoag R.B., and Anderson E., A Proposal to U.S. Dept. of State to Map and Develop Levant Megawatersheds Using a Proven U.S. Technology in Support of the Peace Initiative. 1991.

[10] Anderson, E., Water Conflict in the Middle East - A New Initiative. Jane's Intelligence Review, 5 May 1992. vol 4.

[11] Driscoll, N. & Uchupi, E., 1997. The Importance of Gas and Groundwater Seepage in Landscape and Seascape Evolution. Thalassas, p. 35-48.

[12] Burbey, T.J. and Prudic, D.E., Conceptual Evaluation of Regional Ground-Water Flow in the Carbonate-Rock Province of the Great Basin, Nevada, Utah, and Adjacent States. Regional Aquifer System Analysis. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1409-D, 1991.

[13] Bisson, R.A. and El-Baz, F., The Megawatersheds Exploration Model. In: Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Remote-Sensing of Enviroment, Environmental Research Institute of Michigan. 1990.

[14] Postel, S., Water and Agriculture. Water in Crisis. P.H. Gleick Editor, 1993, Oxford University Press, Oxford: p.56-62.

[15] Agnew, C. and Anderson, E., Water Resources in The Arid Realm. 1992, London, Routledge Press.

[16] Bisson, R.A., Sheffield, C. & Sisk, 1995, Megawatersheds Exploration: A State-of-the-Art Technique Integrating Water Resources and Envinromental Management Technologies. Proceedings of the IDA World Congress on Desalination and Water Sciences, Abu Dhabi, UAE. p 499-512.

[17] Burbey, T.J. and Prudic, D.E., Conceptual Evaluation of Regional Ground-Water Flow in the Carbonate-Rock Province of the Great Basin, Nevada, Utah, and Adjacent States. Regional Aquifer System Analysis. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1409-D, 1991.

[18]Hopkins, W., Researches in Physical Geology. 1835.

[19] Angellilo, O.R., 1959, Replenishing Source of Waters Flowing Through Rock Fissure Aquifers. Unpublished Manuscript, as presented to State of California.

[20] Bisson, R.A. and El-Baz, F., The Megawatersheeds Exploration Model. Proceedings of International Conference on Desert Environments. Trieste, Third World Academy of Sciences, 1989

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