Irrigation in Colombia

Irrigation in Colombia

"Source": Health Ministry and Environment Ministry (1996)

Anticipated climate change impacts on irrigated agriculture

According to the first national communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Colombia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Highland Andean ecosystems, especially moorlands, are expected to be seriously affected by increase in temperature which has recorded a net increase of 0.2-0.3 degrees Celsius per decade during the period 1961-1990 – according to the Meteorological, Hydrological and Environmental Studies Institute—and is expected to continue to do so by the Meteorological Research Institute of Japan. Hydrological temperature changes would result in a loss of biodiversity and the services attached to those such as water supply, basin regulation and hydropower. cite web
title=Colombia Integrated National Adaptation Project
author=Vergara, Walter
publisher=World Bank
pages=pp. 7-10

Legal and institutional framework

Legal framework

The Colombian Constitution of 1991 grants to the Colombian Government the responsibility of guaranteeing natural resources sustainable use, including water resources. In 1993, the government passed a Land Development Law No. 41 in 1993 and its associated enabling Decree Nos. 1278 and 2135 aimed at reducing public intervention in the irrigation sector and spurring private investment. The Law incorporates users’ participation in design, building, and posterior operation and maintenance (O&M) by establishing a water fee which includes a fraction of the total costs. The law also establishes the National Council for Land Development (CONSUAT).

The Law 99 of 1993 established the current institutional framework in Colombia; in particular it created the Environment Ministry the National Environmental System (See Water resources management in Colombia for further information). The Law creates a new and complex institutional framework where different administrations and institutions coexist.

Institutional framework

The Environment Ministry is in charge of formulating water resources management policies and regulations including pollution standards and charge fees. The Agriculture Ministry is in charge of developing sustainable land management, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The National Council for Land Management (CONSUAT) is the Agriculture Ministry’s principal advisor and INAT – together with other public and private entities – is its executive branch. The National Fund for Land Management is an administrative unit in charge of designing and implementing irrigation, drainage and flood control infrastructure. Until 1992, irrigation districts management were subscribed to HIMAT – now renamed INAT – and are currently in the process of being transferred to water user organizations (See History of the irrigation sector above).

Finally, the institutional framework includes a research institution, IDEAM which coordinates the Colombian Environmental Information System and is responsible for meteorology, hydrology, and related environmental studies. cite web
title=Integrated Water Resource Management in Colombia: Paralysis by Analysis
author=Blanco, Javier
publisher=International Journal of Water Resources
pages=Vol.24, Issue 1, pp. 91-107
] .

Example of WUA: The Coello Irrigation District

The Coello irrigation district is located about 150 kilometers from the capital, Bogota on the left bank of the Magdalena River in the Department of Tolima. The only source of water for the project is the Rio Coello, a tributary of the Magdalena River. About 99Z of the lands of the Coello project belong to private owners. About 56% of the farms in the district are smaller than 10 ha, occupying a total of only 142 of the land area. Another 262 of the farms occupy more than 20 haeach or a total of 712 of the land.

The management of the Coello district was transferred to the Water Users' Association (known as USOCOELLO) when HIHAT was created in 1976. The general conditions of transfer were defined in an agreement between HIMAT and USOCOELLO. USOCOELLO's regulations defining the rights and obligations of the association members, and the functions of the General Assembly, Board, and General Manager are set out in a document issued on October 31, 1986. Any owner, farmer or tenant farmer in the area can be a member of USOCOELLO and submit a request for registration. The district is one of the oldest in Colombia and members of the Association participate actively in the annual meetings. cite web
title=Two Irrigation Systems in Colombia
author=Plusquellec, Herve
publisher=The World Bank
pages= pp. 12-15
] .

Economic aspects

Water tariff

Under Colombian law all beneficiaries of public works must pay a land appreciation surcharge proportionate to the value of the government's investment. Beneficiaries of land improvement districts are also liable for the cost of operations and maintenance (O&M). Operations and maintenance costs are recovered through (i) a fixed water charge (per hectare, per year) and (ii) a variable water charge based on the volume of water delivered for irrigation. The law does not state what proportion of these two charges is to meet O&M costs. Water rates are fixed once a year by HIHAT's Board of Directors before the first planting season starts, at the time of budget preparation. In setting the fixed and volumetric water rates, HIMAT determines the users’ contribution to O&M costs, the government pays the difference. Fixed charges are paid in advance, regardless of land use. Their payment is a pre-requisite for receiving the irrigation service. The volumetric water charges are paid at the end of each season. The collection rate is generally high. Volumetric payments depend on how much water is actually delivered to the farmers. Rainfall varies markedly, which affects demand for supplementary irrigation water. Total water charges covered only 34.9% O&M costs in 1980 and 28.5% in 1987. Only a few districts, including RUT, approach self-sufficiency for operations and maintenance.


According to FAO, 463,000 ha of the functional irrigable land in Colombia (or 62%) has been developed and managed by the private sector. Only 38% was developed by the public sector. FAO estimates that the private sector invested an average of US$19 million annually during the period 1991-1997. In 1994, investment cost of private irrigation development for basic irrigation projects providing water for rice and cereal varied between US$750 to 1,000 per hectare. Private investment cost for irrigation schemes featuring pumping lifts varied between US$ 1,200 to 1,750 per hectare. Finally, private investment costs for irrigations schemes including wells, sprinkles or localized irrigation varied between US$2,000 to 2,700 per hectare.

External cooperation

During the 1980s, The World Bank invested a total of US$234 million in [ several small-scale irrigation developments] on the foothills of the Andes, in the savannah country of Northern Colombia and the Magdalena watershed in Northwest Colombia.

Particularly in the area of Climate Change, the World Bank is working closely with Colombian Government in an [ Integrated National Adaptation Project] to strengthen Colombian institutions, particularly IDEAM, to produce climate information in support of adaptation to climate change. The project also includes the definition and implementation of a specific pilot adaptation program supporting the maintenance of environmental services in the Las Hermosas Massif including the [ Amoya watershed protection] .

The Inter- American Development Bank worked together with the Colombian government in the 1990s in the creation of a [ National Irrigation Program] and an [ Irrigation and Drainage Program] to support the government's strategy for land improvement and to seek private-sector involvement in efforts to modernize Colombia's agriculture sector.

Lessons learned from Colombia’s irrigation model

Researchers Carlos Garces-Restrepo and Doublas L. Vermillion studied the impact of management transfer to water users’ organizations in selected irrigation systems, namely RUT, Rio Recio, Samaca, San Rafael y Maria La Baja. The findings of the study “support the hypothesis that management transfer leads to efforts by water users associations to improve management efficiency, such as reducing the number of management staff and taking measures to cut costs.” Management transfer also leads to a significant reduction of government expenditures in irrigation management. However, “transfer has not had substantial impacts on the performance of operations and maintenance or in the agricultural and economic productivity of irrigated land or water, neither improving negative performance nor causing detriment where performance was positive.”

The researchers also notice that the concept of “management transfer” varies among countries. In the case of Colombia, government maintained considerable authority over O&M, budgets and human resources. Ownership of infrastructure was never transferred to water users associations nor have water rights been granted. Hence, “it is necessary to test the hypothesis that a more integrated and comprehensive devolution policy would lead to more positive impacts on performance.”

ee also

*Water resources management in Colombia
*Water supply and sanitation in Colombia
*Electricity sector in Colombia


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