[HimalAnde​s Focused Conversati​on] Case Study 1 by CONDESAN: Machangara River Basin Council, Azuay Province, Ecuador

Dear KM4Dev Members, 

Here is the first Case Study for Week 1. This case is provided by CONDESAN, which was founded in 1993 and has since consolidated its position as an important platform for issues related to natural resource management and sustainable development in the Andean region, particularly in water and watershed management. CONDESAN generates and shares information and knowledge about natural resource management in Andean rural societies to promote policy dialogues with local actors, national governments and regional organisms. The organization seeks to strengthen Andean human and institutional capital in order to promote new leaders for sustainable development in the Andes.

Thank you in advance for your comments. 


Felipe Custer

Case 1: Machangara River Basin Council, Azuay Province, Ecuador

I. Basin overview

The basin is located in the Inter-Andean region of southern Ecuador, in the provinces of Azuay and Cañar, with a total surface area of 235 km2. It is a sub-basin of the Paute River which pertains to the Santiago hydrographic system on the Atlantic slope, and is considered one of the country’s most important, since it is the location of two hydroelectric power plants and provides water for the city of Cuenca. In addition, 77% of the total surface of the basin pertains to the Machangara–Tomebamba Protected Forest. According to the Ministry of Environment, this space collects approximately 305 cubic hectares of rainwater every year, as a result of having 1118.40 mm/year average annual precipitation (IHHA, 2006).

The Machángara River basin is highly representative of Andean basins because it is a basin with multiple uses on which hundreds of thousands of users depend. This dependence results in increasing pressure on ecosystems, which has caused constant degradation, fueled by population growth, increased extractive activities and the intensification of natural disasters associated with climate change.


II. The problems at the Basin

Prior to the formation of the Machángara River Basin Council in 1998, the basin was a space for the exploitation of resources, where a sectorized perspective and use of water prevailed. The electricity sector, the public potable water and sewer service sector and the irrigation sector used the water destined for the different uses as they saw fit, with little coordination among them, which turned into a competition and a source of conflict.

Thirty-two conflicts have been recorded, with access to water as the main cause of conflicts and tension among the different users. Other causes are pollution of water sources by the mining industry, inadequate management of solid waste and wastewater, and private appropriation of land in the upper part of the basin, especially the moors.

Water management in the basin was markedly sectorial. There are 11 public entities with water management authority in the province, with overlapping roles and functions, and there were no clear coordination mechanisms or joint actions.

Soil use was disorderly, with a weak system for control over aspects associated with the location of public works, mining operations, aggregate extraction, fish farming, agriculture, urbanization and industrial operations.

The basin had vulnerable areas due to geological conditions, as well as improper use of natural resources, including an increase in deforestation and crops on high slopes, which caused water pollution and the accumulation of sediments in water regulating works used as sources to supply electrical and potable water systems.

In the upper basin, extensive pasturing of cattle and horses prevailed, which added to soil degradation and water pollution. In addition, there was the seasonal burning of vegetation from grasslands to obtain straw used as cattle feed.

An on-going threat was the logging of native trees and the collection of brush to be used as fuel by families living in the basin or to generate income from selling it.

Analysis of the problem determined that the impact on the rural population was significant, as their productive capacity and basic means of subsistence were endangered as a consequence of the degradation of soils and the vegetation cover, establishing the need for conservation activities in this part of the basin. In addition, it revealed the need to implement negotiation processes and to reach agreements among the different users in order to improve the efficiency of water use and guarantee its supply in a context of population growth and climate change.

In this context, the Basin Council established the objective of achieving effective coordination among the participating institutions and users in the basin to make its sustainable development possible, with emphasis on water management as part of natural resource management.

For this purpose, the need to foster and implement integral management of water resources in the jurisdiction of the Machángara basin was identified, using the policies established by the SENAGUA as a basis. In addition, a formal basis for future interinstitutional relations was created in order to unify initiatives and avoid duplication of efforts in the technical, administrative, economic and logistical areas related to the project, as well as to take advantage of the resources available to institutions in their field of competence in order to facilitate technical cooperation. 

III. Actions taken

For the purpose of dealing with the aforementioned problems, on July 28, 1998 an interinstitutional agreement was signed on the formation of the Basin Council for integral management of the Machángara River basin, which is composed of the National Secretariat for Water – SENAGUA, National Irrigation Institute – INAR, ELECAUSTRO, ETAPA, Universidad de Cuenca, the Ministry of Environment, JGUSRM and the Provincial Government of AZUAY. This council has a board of directors, a technical committee and a technical secretariat in charge of supervising and coordinating the council’s actions with its members and other organizations that are not participants in the council.

In the year 2001, a strategic plan titled “Development Plan Guidelines” was formulated, establishing a vision of forming a leading hydrographic basin network with clear environmental sensitivity, generating a water culture among the inhabitants of the region. For this purpose, a process was implemented to coordinate and articulate the capacities and resources of member organizations and institutions for management of the basin. They facilitate consensus on the exploitation of water and other natural resources from a sustainable perspective and oversee compliance; manage resources and applicable legislation based on participatory proposals in local, national and international contexts; plan sustainable development of the basin and stimulate actions and initiatives of actors that contribute to conservation of the basin.

In this process, some important milestones have been identified: In 2003, the main organizations that exchange experiences, information, technology and financial and legal mechanisms implemented as part of the management of the basin were integrated. In 2005, actions were established in the framework of the territorial planning and management plan and, in 2007, a plan was implemented for the exploitation of natural resources, particularly follow-up, evaluation, monitoring and oversight regarding water.

The following are among the main strategies implemented:

  • Continuous     interinstitutional coordination, primarily among municipalities, rural     communities and the Ministry of Environment, resulting in the signing of     agreements
  • Technical     assistance and extension programs with the support of certified communal     promoters, community management of natural resources, Guardianía Verde     (green guardians), and environmental education
  • Communication     and dissemination process, by first making an impact on individual     knowledge and subsequently, on shared knowledge
  • Empowerment     of the middle levels of participating organizations for sustainability of     the process, avoiding stagnation due to changes at managerial levels
  • Articulation     of the basin management process with governmental processes such as forest     partners, moor partners and FONAGUA
  • Implementation     of political dialogue to analyze problems and determine solutions and     commitments among the participants
  • Experience     as a training space and this as a strategy for learning and feedback on     the process

IV. Issues

  • Ecuadorian     legislation does not legally recognize the Basin Council as an     organization, which results in a legal vacuum that keeps it from obtaining     legal person status in order to act independently without depending on the     intermediation or representation by its member organizations. Despite this     limitation, the Basin Council is progressing and obtaining good results.     So far, it has operated under a circle-of-friends format that enables it     to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
  • 46%     of the population of Cuenca does not know where its potable water comes     from and is unaware of the regulating hydrological service that the basin     provides or its importance; greater creativity and effort are needed to     raise awareness among the population.
  • In     the spirit of cooperation, the technical secretariat of the Basin Council     has been operating in the offices of ETAPA. This has led to confusion     among the population, which identifies the Basin Council as an ETAPA     project. The Basin Council needs to have a permanent technical team with     its own office space.

V. Results achieved so far

  • Institutional     participation, consensus building, coordination and COMPETENCE-based work:     City Hall is responsible for urban planning and legal compliance; the     university for research and technical extension work; ETAPA, ELECAUSTRO     and JGUSRM for financing the process in different ways and according to     their possibilities; and the Ministry of Environment for regulation and     legal compliance. This is achieved based on negotiation with reliable     information that makes it possible to understand that in the basin there     are a number of water users and they all have the same rights and     obligations. 
  • The     formation of the water fund for the Machángara River basin, whose largest     contributors are ETAPA, ELECAUSTRO and JGUSRM. This fund is the basis that     enables the council to carry out its conservation actions in the basin in     order to ensure continuous provision of hydrological environmental     services.
  • Guardianía     Verde (green guardians) program through the interinstitutional cooperation     agreement between ELECAUSTRO and ETAPA, whose objective is “to avoid     changes in soil use in the area of the Machángara – Tomebamba Protected     Forest”. Composed of forest rangers recognized by the Ministry of     Environment who have authority to carry out control-oriented actions in     relation with changes in soil use in the basin, this team’s work has     achieved timely control over forest fires and a decrease in their number,     as well as immediate reporting of environmental infractions to the     competent national environmental authority.
  • The     Community Natural Resource Management Program, whose purpose is to improve     the quality of life of the rural families living in the middle and lower     parts of the basin as a strategy to avoid the expansion of agricultural     areas to the upper parts of the water-producing basin. This strategy,     called “protection of the source outside the source”, involves 1,400     families who have successfully implemented agroforestry practices and     conservation of resources.
  • Development     of talent through the meeting of knowledge between the technical world and     local capacities, achieving the training of community promoters, who     provide their services in the basin, in the “School of Continuing     Knowledge on Community Management of Natural Resources, Leadership and     Management” program and certification from Universidad de Cuenca.
  • Under     the concept of “a trained child is one less adult to be trained”, ETAPA     promotes the “Agua Vida” Rural Environmental Education Program which to     date has trained more than 1050 children on environmental protection with     a hydrographic-basin approach. In addition, ELECAUSTRO has trained 1070     school children in its environmental education program called “Significant     learning for the prevention of negative environmental impacts”.
  • Political     dialogues with the participation of the chairpersons of the parish boards,     environmental delegates, political lieutenants, chairpersons of water     boards and committees, and delegates of the institutions composing the     Basin Council.
  • Environmental     awareness-raising as a communication and dissemination policy. With     support from Universidad de Cuenca, CREA and ELECAUSTRO have created a     council website: www.consejodelmachangara.com.ec
  • The     Machángara basin is a reference source on the management and conservation     of natural resources with institutional community participation. For this     reason, it has been turned into a training space for different groups,     such as students from schools and universities in different Peruvian     cities.
  • Research     and promotion through an agreement on conservation of the basin signed by     ETAPA and ELECAUSTRO. The physiochemical and bacteriological condition of     the water at strategic points of interest to both companies is monitored     quarterly. This has led to identification of the self-purifying power of     the Machángara River with regard to organic sources of pollution.
  • Considering     the purchase of properties as a fundamental strategy for conservation of     the upper Machángara basin, ETAPA acquired 1410 hectares that compose the     Chanlud Protected Area.

VI. Lessons learnt, Key success factors and replication possibilities


·       When a company adopts the basin approach to resource management, it is recognized as another development actor and is capable of approaching other actors in its context and even leading dialogue and consensus building for sustainable resource management, reducing the level of social conflict, improving the availability and quality of the resource it uses and increasing its profitability.

·       The Basin Council as a management platform makes it possible to optimize the technical, economic and human resources of the entities or organizations involved, due to which the investments required to manage a basin are shared. In addition, duplicating functions is avoided and organizational strengthening and exchange between participating organizations are promoted.

·       An established national and/or local legal framework is not necessarily required in order to form a basin council. In its absence, the formation of a basin council could provide the inputs for the construction of effective legal and interinstitutional frameworks.

·       The formation of a basin council through the implementation of its different tools not only contributes to integral resource management; it also generates sources of employment and higher income for the local population.

·       The generation of reliable local information and access to it, communicated through adequate systems, enables the actors in the basin to understand the socioenvironmental processes in which they are involved, facilitating dialogue and better decision making.

Key success factors

·       Work at the managerial and technical level in order to achieve institutional participation in the process, with strategies such as lobbying among managers and mid-level employees, as well as individual and shared convictions

·       As institutions forming the Basin Council have financing capacity and are users of the basin, coordinated actions are taken based on common interests and objectives.

·       Signing of interinstitutional coordination agreements on conservation with local governments, communities and other actors according to the competences of each institution. They recognize and share the benefits of coordinated efforts, which motivates them to continue contributing.

·       Concrete actions in the field, some of which articulate conservation with productive projects in order to gain credibility and trust among members of the council and the population of the basin

·       It is a basin that is regulated by the Chanlud dam (17 hectometers) and the El Labrado dam (6 hectometers), which permits planning use of the resource.

·       There is a large amount of information on the basin, drawn up by institutions.

·       There is a strategy for communication on problems related to the basin, actions taken and results achieved, which makes use of monthly publications, posters, and direct communication, among other means of communication.

·       Committed promoters with real authority granted by the Ministry of Environment and certification from Universidad de Cuenca

·       Effective control system composed of forest rangers and communal promoters as guards, and CCRM with the capacity to exert pressure and facilitate the Ministry of Environment’s efforts to enforce legal sanctions

Replication possibilities

·       The Machángara River basin is representative of the Andes, where the main water users are cities, agriculture and hydroelectric power plants.

·       The experience of the Machángara River Basin Council has been obtained based on its will to coordinate and agree upon the best way to manage water and other natural resources, despite not having legal recognition of the Basin Council as such, demonstrating that efficient water management is achieved based on the actors willingness to engage in dialogue based on reliable information.

·       The legislation on water management in several countries in the region has recently incorporated the basin approach. All of them consider the formation of basin councils, due to which methodologies and tools are being established for their formation. This experience could be the basis for promoting and consolidating these platforms.

·       In the region there are several basins with conflicts among users of water for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation companies. The causes vary, but all of them have to do with access to water, adequate management of flows and the impacts of the construction of storage dams. Machángara has developed different negotiation mechanisms that have made it possible to reach agreements on harmonious use of water in the basin.

·       The Machángara experience has developed and implemented several mechanisms for sharing the benefits of the basin’s water, among which the following stand out: the water fund, green guardian programs, and the program for community management of natural resources, among others. This demonstrates that mechanisms for sharing benefits are an important tool for managing the basin.

[1] General Secretariat of the Andean Community of Nations – SGCAN, 2009. “Ecosistemas de los Andes del Norte y Centro” (Ecosystems of the Northern and Central Andes)

[2] General Secretariat of the Andean Community of Nations – SGCAN, 2010. Estrategia Andina para la gestión integrada de los recursos hídricos. (Andean strategy for integral management of water resources) Document presented at the subregional workshop EA-GIRH, April 8 and 9. Lima.

[3]  ENDE. 1987. Inventario de potencial hidroenergético de Bolivia. (Inventory of Bolivia’s hydroelectric potential) La Paz: ENDE.

[4]  CONELEC. 2009. Plan maestro de electrificación (Master plan for electrification). Quito, Ecuador.

[5]  GTZ & LIS. (1979). Evaluación del potencial hidroeléctrico nacional (Evaluation of the national hydroelectric potential). Lima: MEM.

[6]  IUCN,  2002.  High Andean wetlands. Tech. rep.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

[7]  Buytaert, W., Célleri, R., De Bièvre, B., Cisneros, F., Wyseure, G., Deckers, J. & Hofstede, R. (2006) Human impact on the hydrology of the Andean páramos. Earth-Sci. Rev. 79, 53–72.

[8] Dourojeanni, A. 2010. Gestión integral de cuencas y recursos hídricos y cambio climático (Integral management of iver basins, water resources and climate change). Presentation by Foro Perú – Netherlands: La gestión del agua y el cambio climático (Water management and climate change), Lima, October 21 and 22.

[9] Dourojeanni, A. 2011. Capacidades institucionales para la gestión del agua frente al desafío del cambio climático en AL (Institutional capacities for water management in the face of the challenge of climate change in LA). Santiago, Chile.


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Comment by Ana Maria Ponce on September 24, 2013 at 6:31pm


From: lsimm18@hotmail.com To: kmdev-l@dgroups.org Subject: [HimalAndes Focused Conversation] Questions on Case 1 Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2013 23:58:36 +0000


Dear KMDevers,

After reading the excellent case study submitted by CONDESAN, I believe it would be interesting to have more information about the genesis of the project, and the role of CONDESAN and other key players in the development of the Machangara River Basin Council. Furthermore, I would like to raise the following questions for the authors, but also for wider reflection:

- How did the Basin Council overcome the practical communications problems? How is the Knowledge Management structured? What infrastructure was it necessary to develop to support the initiative(Internet/radio/publications, etc.) and how was it achieved?

- On the Basin Council itself; what resources does it require to be sustainable? For instance, how many people participate and how does it operate? How are they funded? What skills are required in the Council Members?

- How is the Basin Council perceived by the local population?

- On the paragraph related to Replication Possibilities: -- In the region there are several basins with conflicts among users of water for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation companies. The causes vary, but all of them have to do with access to water, adequate management of flows and the impacts of the construction of storage dams. Machángara has developed different negotiation mechanisms that have made it possible to reach agreements on harmonious use of water in the basin.—


- It is mentioned in the paragraph highlighted above that the Basin Council has developed different negotiation mechanisms. What are the mechanisms and how could they be applied elsewhere?

- In the case of conflict involving legal or other issues between members of the user groups, how does this affect the management of the Basin Council?

- Would it help to have a legal basis for future Basin Councils, or would they be better off without it?


Looking forward to hear some ideas and comments on the above, receive my best regards,


Les Simm

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