Water battles

The legislative battle over who will have a voice in regulating El Salvador's water resources has heated up this week and is perhaps headed towards a final showdown.

The task of drafting new water legislation in El Salvador is in the hands of the Environment Committee of the National Assembly.   On Monday, the Committee approved a provision which would create a governing body (the "ente rector") over water resources composed of seven members.  Those seven members consist of one each from:

  • Ministry of the Environment (MARN)
  • Ministry of Agriculture (MAG)
  • University of El Salvador
  • Local water boards
  • Municipal governments
  • Private industrial users
  • Private agricultural users (sugar cane)

Those last two members from private business interests generate serious concerns and opposition from environmental groups.  The position of a broad alliance of water rights groups is that there should be no private interests holding a right to appoint specific members of the governing body.   They label any participation of private interests in how water resources will be allocated as "privatization" of water. 

The current proposal was approved with the votes of committee members from the conservative parties ARENA, PCN and PDC while GANA and the FMLN declined to support the proposal.

President-elect Nayib Bukele went on Twitter to call for president Salvador Sanchez-Ceren to veto any legislation which includes persons not from the public sector on the governing body.   Bukele declared that a veto could not be overridden with the FMLN and GANA supporting the veto.

We may be a long ways from a vote on a final bill.   The committee vote on the governing body approved only one article of a proposed law having more than 150 articles to be reviewed by the environment committee before it is voted on by the National Assembly.

El Salvador suffers from severe stress on its water resources ranging from contamination of most surface waters, to depletion of underground aquifers, to inadequacies in distribution of potable water.  Despite these grave problems the National Assembly has been unable to pass a general water law for more than 10 years.