What Can We Learn From Development of Irrigation Management Transfer In Mexico1?

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IMT in Mexico is considered successful in terms of the establishment of legal and institutional foundation prior to IMT. It promoted farmer participation in irrigation management. In terms of financial sustainability and agriculture productivity, it is too early to say if it is successful. For countries where irrigation systems are relatively new or with little deferred maintenance problems, there is greater chance to successfully implement IMT6.
The following lessons can be learnt (Kloezen et al, 1997; others references):

  1. Farmer involvement should be reflected in representative governance structure rather than maximizing their direct participation in O&M activities

  2. There should be at least a transition period of 6-month after IMT, during which irrigation agency and WUAs co-manage the irrigation infrastructure

  3. When forming a WUA, its size should be considered to make it financially self-sufficient. Above 5,000 ha is recommended in Mexico

  4. Below WUA, there should be strong grass-root level water user groups, such as the ejidos and private owners’ organizations in Mexico

  5. WUA should be equipped with technical means (including proper machinery and equipment) to maintain their canals and structures to avoid high capital costs to WUA (at least initially)

  6. Training should be continuously made available to WUA leaders and technical staff on O&M and financial management

  7. Transparency and good communication to farmer water users is critical when water fee needs to be increased to reach the self-sufficiency

  8. WUA should be allowed to address related agriculture support if so demanded by their members, such as additional services to members in technology transfer, agriculture input supply, commercialization, financing, etc.


Comisión Nacional del Agua, 2005. Síntesis de las Estadísticas del Agua en México, 2005. Sistema Unificado de Información Básica del Agua (SUIBA), Sistema Nacional de Información sobre cantidad, calidad, usos y conservación del Agua (SINA). Comisión Nacional del Agua.- México: CNA, 2005. ISBN 968-817-561-7
Garcés-Restrepo, Carlos. “IMT Country Profiles: Mexico.” International E-mail Conference on Irrigation Management Transfer. 2001. FAO and INPIM.
José Luis Trava Manzanilla, 2002. Aspectos prácticos en la transferencia de los distritos de riego a las asociaciones de usuarios. In Localización: El derecho de aguas en Iberoamérica y España : cambio y modernización en el inicio del Tercer Milenio, Vol. 2, 2002, ISBN 84-470-1847-4 , page. 543-584.
Kloezen, W. H., C. Garcés-Restrepo and S.H. Johnson III. 1997. Impact assessment of Irrigation Management Transfer in the Alto Rio Lerma Irrigation District, Mexico. IIMI Research Report No. 15. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Irrigation Management Institute.
Palacios Vélez, Enrique, Adolfo Exebio García, Enrique Mejía Saénz, Ana Laura Santos Hernández and Ma. Eugenia Delgadillo Piñón, 2002. Financial Problems of Associations of Users and the Effect on Conservation and Operation of Irrigation Districts. In Terra 20: 505-513. April, 2002. Mexico, D. F.
Ramos, S. 1999. El proceso de reformas políticas, legislativas y administrativas en el sector agua en México en el período 1988-98. (unpublished draft report). México: IWMI.
Santos-Hernandez, Ana Laura, Enrique Palacios-Vélez, Adolfo Exebio-García1 and Luis E. Chalita-Tovar, 2000. Methodology to Evaluate the Distribution of Costs and Income related to the Irrigation Service. In Agrociencia 34: 639-649. Mexico, D. F.
Sistema de Información Hidroagrícola de Distritos de Riego (SINDR). 2002. Information System Database elaborated by the Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua (IMTA), Software Version 2.36, Data base Version 2.2. Property rights of National Commission of Water (CNA). Cuernavaca, Morelos. México.

Case: Rio Lerma SRL: from WUA to integral service provider

In this section, the story of the evolution of the ID 011 Lerma SRL (Figure A) is presented as one of many examples on how a farmer water user organization evolved and reached a complex structure, complemented with other functions that went beyond irrigation.

Background. The Rio Lerma SRL comprises 11 WUA from ID 011, located in the state of Guanajuato -central Mexico- in the Lerma-Chapala river basin. Its irrigable area is around 112,000 ha, distributed among 23,500 farmer water users. Surface water is the main source (70%) of the ID water diverted from the Lerma River and its tributaries - Guanajuato and Turbio. The rest is from groundwater extracted from private or official wells7. Table A presents infrastructure of ID 011.
The cropping pattern in the ID is as follows: wheat, barley, beans and broccoli from October to February; sorghum, maize, beans and broccoli from March to September. Alfalfa, strawberry, asparagus and some fruit trees are cultivated all year round.
IMT- Before 1991, ID 011 was managed entirely by government. In 1992, the implementation of IMT resulted in the establishment of 11 WUA to take over O&M of secondary networks. At a recent interview, Amador Sanchez García, who was the first president of the Salvatierra WUA, recalled:
“IMT was a rumor at the start - we thought it was never to happen in our ID… But, there were many complaints about delays on maintenance of the infrastructure, and we thought our participation was necessary.… However, it was a slow process of convincing ourselves about our capability to handle O&M of our secondary networks and machinery. Meeting with other WUA was what really encouraged us to accept IMT in our area. We started with 50% of the hydraulic structures in bad condition and with few equipment and machinery. But the canals were not as bad…. We hired only 40% of the ID staff, and in less than 3 months, we were operating our module. After all, we were very familiar with irrigation services, which were the main element of our economic activity”.
Figure A- Irrigation Lerma River District 011

Table A. Hydraulic infrastructure in the Irrigation Distric 011, Lerma River






Tepuxtepec dam



Solis dam



Yuriria Lake



La Purisima dam



Diversion dams







Lomo del Toro



Santa Julia






Pumping equipment

Official wells



Private wells



Pumping station



Irrigation network










Drainage network










Road network

Road - no lining



Lined roads



Similar cases were encountered in the others modules of ID 011. By 1996, the 11 WUAs had gained experience. They then established the Rio Lerma SRL. The formation took only 8 months. By early 1997, the SRL was running the main network. This process was witnessed by Raymundo Rocha, who has been the SRL general manager since and also a former CONAGUA employee. He considers that the main obstacle faced during IMT of the main network was WUA members’ misperception that the water fee was going to increase again. In fact, there was no increase as SRL got a share of the water fee that WUA already paid to CONAGUA, and this fee was broken down into two parts - the head-work and main network.

Financial conditions. The evolution of water fee (in real values) is presented in Figure A. It can be observed that prior to IMT during 1985 - 1991, the increments to the water fee were higher than after the IMT. However, the trend has been constant after adjusting the water fee increment with that of inflation (from 4% to 9%). It is important to mention that an extra annual fee of US$ 2/ha is paid by members for rehabilitation and modernization expenditures. The share of water fee among WUA, SRL and CONAGUA is on average 75%, 18% and 7% respectively.
Figure A - Evolution of water fee (Real Term) in Rio Lerma ID 011, 1985-2006

The Rio Lerma SRL has an average annual income of US$ 214,500 from water fees and other services (Figure B). This amount corresponds to the share that is paid by the WUAs from the total water users’ fee income. There is an agreement among WUAs, SRL and the bank institutions were the water users deposit their water fee payment; a daily financial balance is made and the bank distributes the total income according to the shares previously mentioned.
The distribution of SRL expenditures has been fluctuating from 6% to 18% on administration, from 9% to 22% on maintenance and, from 14% to even 80% on operation and some rehabilitation (how about the remaining 20%?). Figure B shows that SRL has been doing relatively well except for 1999 and 2000 (drought years) and in 2003 and 2004 when a investment of around US$ 300,000 took place. It is noted that when rehabilitation investment increased in some years, financial balance presented a deficit for those years. One of the most important factor that makes this SRL sustainable is the high water fee collection efficiency. According to 2007 balance the water fee collection efficiency in the ID is around 90%, one of the highest in the country.
Benefits from IMT. Since its birth, the Rio Lerma SRL, has brought the following benefits:

  • Strong organization structure for PIM, defending farmer interests in their local river basin council for water allocation as it happened in the Lerma-Chapala basin.

  • Accurate assessment of the ID infrastructure and its needs since all modules have a representative and each expresses their WUA needs.

  • Rehabilitation took shorter process according to farmer water user priorities

  • Provision of additional services to WUA such as: technology transfer, access to credit at a monthly rate of 1.8% (lower than commercial banks), agriculture input supply

Figure B Total income and expenses for the Rio Lerma SRL, 1998-2006

Challenges. The Rio Lerma SRL achievements are significant but the challenges are greater. During the last years, the water crisis in the Lerma-Chapala basin has had a sever impact on environment and on farmers’ income. All water users in this ID consider the reduction on surface water availability and the over-exploitation of aquifers as the main issue. This situation has stronger impact on those farmers without access to ground-water and without capital to invest in high efficiency irrigation technology. The challenge for SRL is to homogenize water use and production in order to gain more efficient water use for the whole ID.

1 This review study was carried out by Paula Silva, consultant of the World Bank Institute (WBI). It was funded by the water /rural program of WBI for the purpose of developing WBI training modules on Development of Water User Associations. It was guided, supervised and edited by Dr. Mei Xie, Sr. Water Resources Specialist of WBISD, World Bank. The views in the paper reflect only those from the author.

2 Or known as National Water Commission (CNA)

3 Chapter II: Agriculture Use; First Section: General resolutions

4 Sixth title: Water uses, Chapter II: Agriculture use

5 Under ‘Water Administration’, Chapter 4: Basin Council; Article 13

6 It was estimated that a brand new ID could cost US$ 4,000-7,000/ha. If the maintenance is deferred, rehabilitation can be up to US$1,500-2,500/ha. Normal O&M require an estimated budget of US$25/ha.

7 Official well are owned by the ID and the others are privately owned. The farmer with private well does not have surface water right unless there in an water availability exceeding.

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