Brazil’s National Water Resources Policy

Brazil’s Water Resources Management Policy (law 9.433/97) is a document that establishes 1. important directives for the country’s water management and 2. the main instrument for such management: a National Water Resources Management System (in Portuguese, SINGREH). There’s no official translation to English for this policy, so the snippets I post here will be my own translation.

This policy regulates Brazilian Constitution’s article 21:

Art 21. The Union shall have the power to: (CA No. 8, 995; CA No. 19, 1998; ca no. 49, 2006)

XIX – establish a national system for the management of water resources and define criteria for the concession of the right to their use

This post turned out to get a little bit larger than I first intended to, so I wrote a summary at the end of the post if you don’t want to go through all of the information but are curious about this policy. Just scroll down to the end of the page and you can find it under “Summary”. Plus, I will sometimes refer to the Policy as NWRP (National Water Resources Policy).

Here I will address 5 major parts of the policy:

As with the post The Environment In Brazil’s Federal Constitution, bold and italic emphasis are mine and I also comment on some parts of this policy.


Art 1. The National Water Resources Policy is based in the following principles:

I. Water is a common asset

This means water can’t be owned as private property and everyone has equal rights to it.

II. Water is a limited natural resource with economic value

With this device, lawmakers set the tone for the rationalization of water resources use. This is supposed to achieve the awareness that 1. water is a finite resource and 2. by saying it has economic value, lawmakers opened the way for charging for water use — see instrument number 4 under the section Instruments — , a mechanism for people to use water with parsimony.

III. In scarcity, priority will be given to human consumption and watering of animals

Kudos for this one.

IV. water resources management must always allow for the multiple usage of waters

This is supposed to guarantee a democratic approach to water resources usage.

V. the hydrographic basin is the territorial unit for the implementation of this Water Resources Management Policy and for the operation of the National Water Management System.

This is an especially important principle, for the hydrographic basin is a major focus of this policy, attributing to it most responsibilities for the management of waters.

VI. water management must be decentralised e have the participation of public power, users and communities.

This principle solidifies the Policy’s aim for democratic, de-centralized and participative management, with all sectors having a say in what goes on.


This section outlines what this Policy aims to achieve:

Art 2.The National Water Resources Policy’s objectives are:

I. to ensure the necessary water availability for current and future generations in adequate quality standards according to its respective uses;

II. rational and integrated usage of water resources, including waterway transportation, aiming for sustainable development

III. prevention and defence against critical hydrological events of natural origins or due to inadequate usage of natural resources.

Thus, we can see the influence of the concept of sustainable development in items I and II and, what I found very interesting, a disaster-risk-management device (item III).


The directives are meant to shed light on what the Policy intends to use as the means to achieve its objectives. Here they are:

Art. 3: The general action directives for implementation of the National Water Resources Management Policy are:

I. systematic management of water resources, with no dissociation between quantity and quality

This means that 1. management can’t be sectorized and 2. you can’t have quantity in detriment of quality or quality in detriment of quantity.

II. adequacy of water resources management to physical, biological, demographic, economic, social and cultural diversities in the country’s several regions

This is a really nice directive, for it addresses the diversity of needs and aspects pertaining to Brazil’s water usages, shoving away a one-size-fits-all policy (and thus an unequal policy).

III. to integrate water resources management with environmental management

Very interesting directive, putting into practice the transdisciplinary quality of environmental problems and the need for joint efforts, particularly when it involves different governmental entities.

IV. to articulate water resources management with land usages

VI. to integrate water resources management with estuaries systems and coastal zones


These are the five tools the SINGREH utilizes to implement this policy :

1.Water Resources Plans

These are long-term plans (10 to 20 years) that seek to orient the implementation of this Policy in what concerns water use, protection, preservation and development. These plans should be elaborated by water basin, by state and for the country, all of which should dialogue amongst each other via the bodies in SINGREH. These plans orient the implementation of the next 4 instruments.

2. Framing of water bodies

This means that water bodies will be categorized according to their quality. For example, a water body that serves human consumption needs to have Class 1 quality (the criteria for each of these classes are specified in a resolution by the National Council for the Environment). However, a water body that is mostly used for navigation can have a Class 4 quality.

3. Grants for the right to use water resources

As stated in the principles section, water is a common asset, meaning it can’t be owned as private property — everybody has a right to it. The government’s job is to allow for equal and just access to this right. Therefore, the government grants the right to use water resources in order to regulate such uses. This is basically a licence for using water, but the latter still remains a common asset.

4. Charges for use

By charging for the usage of water, the government means to 1. raise awareness for the fact that water is a finite resource, rationalizing its usage and 2. collect financial resources to be invested in plans, maintenance and improvement of the hydrographic basin they were collected in.

5. Information System

The Information System for Water Resources means to collect and publish data concerning several aspects of Brazil’s water basins, such as quality, quantity, conflicts, usages and so on. This is supposed to aid SINGREH in its water resource management and to provide data for the public.

The National Water Resources Management System – SINGREH

This System (SINGREH) is responsible for carrying out this national policy. It consists of 5 main bodies and types of bodies:

National Water Resources Council

Highest stance in the SINGREH hierarchy. It’s a collegiate organ that establishes the major strategies and directives for this National Policy. It’s presided by the Minister for the Environment and its actions are of deliberative, normative and consultive qualities, for rivers in the Union’s domain. It is not the entity that is in charge of executing the Policy — that’s ANA.

Note: I have included at the end of this post, after Summary and before References, the Constitutional articles that details which water bodies are under which federative body’s domain.

National Water Agency (ANA)

This agency is attached to the Ministry for Environment, but has administrative and financial autonomy. This is in fact the organ in charge of executing the NWRP.

States’ and the Federal District’s Water Resource Councils

Similar to the National Council, but within the competence of States and the Federal District and water bodies under their domain.

Hydrographic Basin Committees

Federal, disctrictal, state and municipal organs whose competencies relate to water resources management. These are forums of political decisions.

Water Agencies

These agencies provides technical, administrative and financial support to the Hydrographic Basin Committees. It’s the executive body for these Committees. It also elaborates the water resources plan (to be seen in instruments).

So here is a visual for all of this information:


This is a long policy with many details to it. However, I believe these to be the most important points:

  • The Policy is thorough in what concerns inclusion, democratic management, rights to a voice in water resources management by multiple stakeholders (communities, local governments, businesses, users). Lawmakers made a solid effort to make this Policy as democratic as possible.
  • The gravitational center for water management in Brazil are the hydrographic basins.
  • To understand how this policy will be carried out, we must take a look at SINGREH — The National Water Resources Management System — and its structure. This System outlines which bodies are responsible for what and how they dialogue amongst each other to guarantee an effective, participative and democratic water management.
  • This is SINGREH’s basic structure:
    1. National Water Resources Council (highest stance; deliberative, normative)
    2. National Water Agency – ANA (executioner of the policy)
    3. States’ and the Federal District’s Water Resource Councils (deliberative and normative for water bodies under their domain).
    4. Hydrographic Basin Committees (forums of political decisions)
    5. Water Agencies (executive bodies for the hydrographic basin committees; technical and financial support)
  • And these are the instruments SINGREH uses to execute the NWRP:
    1. Water Resources Plans (plans for usage, quality, development, etc)
    2. Framing of Water Bodies (classification regarding quality)
    3. Grants for the right to use water resources (license to use water resources)
    4. Charges for use (rationalisation of water use)
    5. Information System
  • In my opinion, this is a very thorough, inclusive and democratic policy. I am yet to study how effective it has been in those respects, but from what I have read so far, it’s on its way to being fully realized — of course, in baby steps, with hurdles and difficulties, but it’s on its way. The Policy is a great guide and there are a lot of people engaged in transforming it to reality.

Brazil’s Federal Constitution of 1988: Water Domain

To make this post as thorough as possible, I thought I’d also include the constitutional articles that establish which water bodies are under which federative body’s domain. So, here they are:

Article 20. The following are property of the Union: (CA No. 46, 2005)

III — the lakes, rivers and any watercourses in lands within its domain, or that wash more than one state, that serve as boundaries with other countries, or that extend into foreign territory or proceed therefrom, as well as bank lands and river beaches;

IV — the river and lake islands in zones bordering with other countries; sea beaches; ocean and off-shore islands, excluding those which are the seat of Municipalities, with the exception of areas assigned to public services and to federal environmental units, and those referred to in article 26, II;

Article 26. The property of the states includes:

I — surface or subterranean waters, flowing, emerging or in deposit, with the exception, in this case, of those resulting from work carried out by the Union, as provided by law;

II — the areas, on ocean and coastal islands, which are within their domain, excluding those under the domain of the Union, the municipalities or third parties;

III — the river and lake islands which do not belong to the Union.

I would like to note that the domain of water bodies are only given to the Union and to the states — municipalities aren’t given domain over water bodies, but they have a claim on their management and quality as long as they’re a part of their territory.

And so we’ve finally made it to the end of the post! Phew! Congratulations if you made it this far 🙂


Agência Nacional de Águas. Lei das Águas. Available at:

Constitution of the Federal Republic of Brazil. Available at:

Planalto. Política Nacional de Recursos Hídricos. Available at:

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