September 2002
Volume 44 Number 9
 

INTERNATIONAL: H2O Americas -- Developing a Vision for the Hemisphere
by Hans P. Beets   Pages: 

Held in late April in La Jolla, Calif., H2O Americas -- the 2002 Annual Institute of the Americas water conference -- brought together key decision-makers from the United States and Latin American business communities and governments to discuss new water, sanitation and irrigation projects as well as regulatory and legislative developments in the region.

Specifically, presentations focused on:
* Integrated water resource management, regulatory and institutional reform;
* Sewage treatment -- financing and coverage;
* Reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture, industry and other non-potable applications, and
* Development of new resources including seawater desalination.

Highlights from the conference
Latin American water resource management issues and challenges -- These included a slowing global economy; fewer attractive investment opportunities for international financing and private capital, market inefficiencies; an evolving legislative and regulatory environment, and an unpredictable political environment in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. Speakers stressed the need for public/private partnerships as well as a clear understanding of the social issues relating to the delivery of water and waste treatment resources to the poor, whether through subsidies, indirect taxes or other means.

Integrated water resource management in California -- The discussion highlighted the need for trans-boundary coordination, particularly in an era of growing water scarcity. Leading experts provided an overview of California water allocation issues, differences between California and Latin American water markets, challenges of coordinating trans-border water resources, allocation issues between urban and agricultural users, and related environmental issues. They focused on seven key issues relating to future water demand -- water conservation; water efficiency improvements in cities and agriculture; expansion of groundwater resources; expansion of surface water resources; reuse of residential, industrial and agricultural wastewater or runoff; improvements in storage and importation of surface water, and seawater desalination opportunities.

An assessment of current water projects in Mexico and across the U.S./Mexico border -- Speakers highlighted that water is considered a national resource under the domain of the Mexican federal government, and discussed current efforts at decentralizing authority over water allocation and supply to states and municipalities. They addressed the fact that the cost of potable water production and sewage collection exceeds actual water tariffs imposed on consumers, inefficiencies in billing and revenue collection, and deficits in clean surface water in large urban areas such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Public/private partnerships and concessions serve as options for the market despite considerable market risks. A number of specific projects were presented that demonstrate promising new developments in the states of Vera Cruz, Jalisco, Baja California, Nuevo Leon and Aguascalientes.

A discussion of specific projects in South America, with specific reference to Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru -- Common challenges cited by speakers included the difficulty in financing urban water and sewage facilities, decentralization of policy-making, and an evolving regulatory and legislative environment. Speakers presented several different water management strategies and challenges, including:
* The absence of public-private partnerships in Brazil, partly due to the relative efficiency of some state companies and the current regulatory framework;
* In Chile, the combination of advanced regulations, the transition from privatization to 30-year concessions, and an emphasis on water reuse have contributed to more private investment; and
* Current projects in Ecuador, including new concessions in Guayaquil and Quito, and -- in Peru -- the development of new regulations and investment incentives, the challenges of service providers in ensuring efficient billing and collection, and reducing high water losses due to lack of metering at the residential level or “micro-measurement.”

The conference highlighted the continuing necessity to focus on improving water management, regulation and infrastructure to entice future investment and development, including issues such as:
* The need for public/private partnerships;
* The use of concessions as part of a water management strategy;
* The need to reform the existing legislative and regulatory framework at the national, state and local levels;
* Water conservation and reuse as an integral component of water policy;
* Increasing efficiency in the delivery, management and revenue collection of water facilities; and
* New technologies such as desalination, membrane technology and trenchless pipe repairs.

About the author
Dr. Hans P. Beets is a senior fellow of the Water Program at the Institute of the Americas. He can be reached at (760) 738-0991, (858) 453-2165 (fax), email: hbeets@cox.net or website: http://www.iamericas.org/sectors/water.html