Routes to Water Rights
As water becomes increasingly contested, water users are increasingly affected by the actions of strangers with whom they have few other links besides sharing the use of a common resource. The success of attempts to resolve conflicts and coordinate collective action in water use depends, among other things, on the ability to find efficient solutions to problems of collective action. If reaching agreement is time-consuming and difficult, and agreements difficult or impossible to enforce, then water allocation is unlikely to be effective, or to occur only through the unilateral imposition of state authority rather than arising from agreement among users. Changes in water resources management are more likely to succeed if new institutional arrangements are efficient in terms of the information, time, expenses, and other resources required. This chapter explores some aspects of how the transactions costs of institutions for water management might be optimized through better understanding of, and working with, legal pluralism in water governance.
Clearer recognition of water rights in one form or another is required for all three major approaches currently advocated for improving water allocation institutions (Meinzen-Dick and Rosegrant 1997): first, clarifying agency allocations through more explicit contractual arrangements, for example, through service agreements for provision of bulk water supplies to irrigators' organizations; second, promoting markets for transferable water rights; third, facilitating development of self-governance institutions (organizations, forums, platforms, and so on) through which users and their representatives can manage water as common property. In irrigation reform, water rights have been acknowledged as important for enabling better governance, including manage-