Indian and American Water Regulation : A Comparative Analysis


The paper examines the current water situation in General with focus on USAand India. The severity of water scarcity in India in some regions and abundance in others is well known, but there is a general impression, even amongst water consultants, that US has solved its water problem and all the sources of water are fully tapped and hence nodal organizations like USBR are now focusing only on Dam Safety and not on Dam Construction. However, recent reports on the water crisis being faced in different regions of the USAbelie this generally held view. The article also examines the water laws inIndia and USA and quotes examples of regional initiatives in both countries.


According to a recent United Nations report, about one-third of the world’s population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress. The problems are most acute in Africa and West Asia, but lack of water is already a major constraint to industrial and socio-economic growth in many other areas, including China, India, and Indonesia. If present consumption patterns continue, two-third of world population will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025. The declining state of the world’s freshwater resources, in terms of quantity and quality, may prove to be the dominant issue on the environment and development agenda of the coming century.” According to the International Monetary Fund, we already use more than fifty percent of available freshwater resources in rivers, lakes, and aquifers. If present consumption trends continue, humans will be using 90 percent of all available freshwater by 2025, leaving just 10 percent for fish, wildlife, and natural ecosystems.

The United Nations declared 2003 “The Year of Freshwater” to focus attention on the issue of global water scarcity and hosted a World Water Forum in Kyoto in March 2003, which generated widespread media and government attention around the world and attracted 10,000 participants. In November 2002, a United Nations committee declared drinking water a human right and asserted that water should not be viewed, “primarily as an economic good.” Also in 2003, Kristalina Georgieva, Director of Environment at the World Bank, stated “Water resource management is one of the most important challenges the world faces. Freshwater is the critical resource of the 21st century and for the future of humankind.” Global business groups, including the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, have created new working groups to address issues related to sustainability and water.

Government Actions:

Governments around the world appear to be paying increasing attention to issues of water quality and quantity. In February 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed the most comprehensive study of compliance with U.S. water pollution laws it has ever conducted. After the study found that more than a quarter of the nation’s largest industrial sites and water treatment plants are in significant violation of federal water pollution standards, the U.S. EPA pledged to step up its enforcement efforts. New water pollution control laws went into effect in China in 2003, and local governments inIndia revoked water use licenses from several plants operated by multinational companies due to concerns about local groundwater depletion.



In the U.S., although per capita water use has declined in recent years, it is clear that total demand for water will continue to climb as total population increases. This growth in demand, combined with competing water interests and widespread water quality problems, is pressuring public utilities to develop more effective water management strategies, tougher water quality standards, and innovative solutions to balance competing water needs. Future supplies will increasingly depend on demand-side management measures, as companies compete with municipal water needs.

There is a general impression, even amongst water consultants that US has solved its water problem and all the sources of water are fully tapped and hence nodal organizations like USBR are now focusing on Dam Safety and not on Dam Construction. However, recent reports on the water crisis being faced in different regions (particularly urban) belie this generally held view. Since each state is autonomous in the United States and enacts in its own laws – it has led to a plethora of regulations.  Below is a report on how the various autonomous regions of theUnited States are enacting regulations to solve local issues relating to water conservation.



200 Municipalities of Texas impose mandatory water restrictions

Residents in this West Texas city, Lubbock , which is already 5 inches in deficit of average annual rainfall, will begin the first stage of mandatory water restrictions, in August 2006, joining nearly 200 municipalities limiting usage in a state that has never had a drier first six months of the year.

Across Texas, 197 of more than 4,500 public water suppliers have put restrictions on watering lawns and landscaping, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which tracks the data. Authorities are further leaning on people’s faith by using an honor system for compliance.

Many cities and towns restrict when residents can water, allowing it between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., when evaporation robs the least amount of the applied water. Some allow watering of lawns and landscaping once a week; others opt to allow residents to water two times a week.

Residents of the Dallas suburb of McKinney, which set a usage record of 45 million gallons in one day, could get a citation for violating the once-a-week watering restriction. If a resident contests the fine and loses, the cost could jump from about $400 to as much as $2,000

While restrictions are aimed at reducing usage, millions of gallons of water have been lost from water main breaks. In McKinney, there have been 40 breaks in the past two months. Without moisture, soil shrinks and the earth shifts, putting pressure on buried waterlines.

A typical knee jerk reaction is to limit exterior landscape irrigation. Typically in order to conserve the resources of the Town of Hilton Head Island’s source of potable water, the Town Council adopted ordinances to regulate the use of water:

Limitations on Exterior Landscape Irrigation

Irrigation of exterior landscaping shall only be allowed according to the following schedule. These restrictions apply regardless of the source of water.

Tuesday and Saturday
Detached, single-family residential with even-numbered addresses. This includes street addresses, box numbers, or rural route numbers ending with the numbers 0,2,4,6 or 8, or letters A through M (inclusive).

Wednesday and Sunday
Detached single-family residential with odd-numbered addresses. This includes street addresses, box numbers, or rural route numbers ending with the numbers 1,3,5,7 or 9 or letters N through Z (inclusive).

Monday and Thursday
Commercial/Office/Institutional Hotels or Motels; common areas of condominium or multi-family dwelling projects, horizonal property regimes; property owner’s associatins or time-share owner’s associations; and locations having no street address, box number, or rural route number.

The law allows hand sprinkling of exterior landscaped areas, such as flower beds, on any day of the week, but hand sprinkling of lawn or turf areas must follow the above water schedule.

Upon application to the appropriate Public Service District or private utility provider, a one-time exemption may be allowed for a 90 day period in which to water newly installed landscaping materials.

Watering to such an extent as to permit ponding or runoff is prohibited.

The law requires that Rain sensors must be installed on new irrigation systems and existing systems.

Any person violating the Town’s water conservation laws shall be subject to a daily pentaly of up to thirty (30) days in jail or a maximum fine of $500.00 (plus court costs), or both.

As recently as June 2006, in Denver, home of the legendry USBR, Denver Water has laid out a $400 million plan aimed at slashing customers’ annual water use by 22 percent over the next 10 years. The utility drafted the plan in hopes of reducing annual consumption by 16.7 billion gallons by 2016. It was to be presented to the utility’s board in August.”Our system is able to meet our current needs, but in the future, it’s going to take more supply, more conservation — or both — to be able to provide for a rapidly urbanizing Front Range,” said Denver Water Commissioner Tom Gougeon.

The plan would step up existing conservation programs, such as homeowner rebates on low-flow toilets, but also launch new measures. One proposal would require builders to meet certain standards for water efficiency before the utility would hook up a new home to the water system. Another would require audits of existing homes before they are sold and requiring the replacement of leaky fixtures. The plan also suggests requiring low-flow urinals in new commercial buildings.

Municipal and commercial customers might have to add irrigation water meters and remove park lawns.

However, the consumers have cooperated with the water commissioner in the past. Since 2002, Denver Water’s 1.1 million customers have cut their annual consumption by about 20 percent, to 64 billion gallons last year.

Customers might have to pay for half of the $400 million conservation plan, but utility officials said they would earn that back in water savings within six years.

Way back in November 2004, The Colorado Water Conservation Board met in Denver to spend up to $500,000 to launch phase two of a far-reaching, closely watched study examining how the state will quench its thirst in the face of a relentless population boom.

In a study, the board recommended several key steps the state should take. They included:

  • Facilitating talks among officials in the state’s eight river basins to ensure rural areas, where much of the state’s water originates, and the thirsty urban Front Range can share water supplies equitably.
  • Finding funds to preserve water for the environment and recreation.
  • Requiring water utilities to report annual water use to ensure adequate data for planning.
  • Monitoring water utilities’ progress in meeting local water needs.

The Statewide Water Supply Initiative, as the study is known, was launched in 1993 in response to the drought prevalent that year. The idea was to help lawmakers understand the state’s water needs and what role policymakers could play in managing the state’s water supplies.

The study has however, shown that even as the drought eases, Colorado’s water needs will soar 53 percent by 2030 as 2.8 million more people arrive.

The state will need an additional 630,000 acre feet of water, enough to serve another 1.26 million households. An acre foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons.

How that water is supplied – whether through additional transmountain diversions, the drying up of farms, aggressive conservation or water recycling – is a critical questionColorado has yet to find an answer of.

Some experts worry that Colorado’s rural farm economies will be crippled as cities move to convert more farm water to municipal use. A problem very similar to the urbanization of the Indian rural landscape as well.

2.1.1 Carrot and Stick: Many states and communities are adopting ordinances requiring water-efficient technologies, or are creating incentives for using them. Some water providers are employing additional progressive techniques such as grants and loans to help industrial and commercial customers pay for the best technology. In addition, voluntary curtailment programs, with adequate education and promotion efforts, are working well in some communities where, for example, business customers agree to reduce their draws on high-peak days in exchange for lower rates or rebates from the water provider.

2.1.2 Community Concerns: Local efforts to privatize delivery of municipal water concerns have generated community opposition from New Orleans, Louisiana, toCochabamba, Bolivia. Similarly, companies have faced community protests, legal challenges, and additional government scrutiny over their water use in places as diverse as Mexico and Michigan, India and El Salvador.

2.2 Shareholder Interest: The controversy regarding pesticides in soft drinks cannot be taken lightly by the companies. As far back as  May 2003, a shareholder proposal asking PepsiCo to report on the business risks it faces from global water scarcity received support from 8 percent of its shareholders, including major institutional investors such as the California Public Employees Retirement System and the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

2.3 Water Legislations in The US

In most countries, the national government generally sets water conservation regulations and standards, which are often implemented at provincial, state, and other local levels. In this section, we have cited U.S. legislation as our example, although specific water quality regulations will vary by country. In addition, some independent organizations offer voluntary principles for water quality and efficiency.

U.S. Legal Standards:

Following are examples of federal and state legislation in the U.S. related to water quality and water use:

Clean Water Act (CWA): A 1977 update of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, this law authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set effluent standards on an industry basis. The CWA also makes it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The CWA’s 1977 amendments focus on increased regulation of toxic pollutants.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): Established to protect drinking water quality from both surface and groundwater sources, the Act authorizes EPA to set maximum levels for water contaminants and develop National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. Every three years EPA must publish a list of possible contaminants known, or expected to occur, in public water systems.

State Water Quality Standards: State standards must meet minimum federal regulatory requirements, but can also exceed them. The 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act require states to implement Source Water Assessment Programs that identify the most significant potential sources of contamination for each public water system, whether served by groundwater or surface water. The assessments are nearing completion and should provide valuable information for communities on drinking water protection needs.

Soil And Water Resources Conservation Act Of 1977
16 U.S.C. §§ 2001-2009, November 18, 1977, as amended 1985 and 1994.

This Act provides for a continuing appraisal of U.S. soil, water and related resources, including fish and wildlife habitats, and a soil and water conservation program to assist landowners and land users in furthering soil and water conservation.

US National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended

(Pub. L. 91-190, 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347, January 1, 1970, as amended by Pub. L. 94-52, July 3, 1975, Pub. L. 94-83, August 9, 1975, and Pub. L. 97-258, § 4(b), Sept. 13, 1982)

An Act to establish a national policy for the environment, to provide for the establishment of a Council on Environmental Quality, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the “National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”



The water situation in India is difficult to generalise given the significant variations that exist from one end of the country to the other in terms of water supply and water availability. Since most agriculture remains rainfed, monsoons still play a crucial role in many basic respects, from the success or failure of crops to the replenishment of ground water sources used as drinking water and animal farming. Huge variations in surface water availability in different regions of the country have led to the proposal for a massive river interlinking project which would seek to link some of the major river basins to ensure a better distribution of water resources throughout the country. Excessive mining of groundwater has also necessitated a review of the policy relating to groundwater usage, and the need to regulate it.

The legal framework concerning water resource use is relatively intricate. Surface water has generally been seen as a common property resource or held in public trust, whose development has been largely undertaken by government agencies. Ground water on the other hand has been deemed to belong to the owner of the land. While surface and ground water has been managed separately in practical and legal terms, this assumption has been challenged in recent times, noteworthy of which is the Plachimada case. The sharing of waters is an issue impacting not only groundwater, but also the river water between states. The dispute concerning the sharing of the Narmada waters between Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu concerning the river Cauvery, illustrates the tensions that water allocation has generated for many years. The Grapevine in India carries more stories of public participation and initiative in the rural areas and there is hardly any information available on local regulation

3.1 Regional initiatives in India


We have all realized how water scarcity can affect our lives. But there are still some success stories to talk about. Below is a reportage on how community based projects are making a difference:

In Kutch and Saurashtra, people’s participation in community-based rain water harvesting has begun to dispel the myth that drought is due to paucity of rain.

Year after year, every summer, both the rural and urban areas of Saurashtra and Kutch reel under water shortages. In the coastal areas the problem is further compounded by salinity ingress into ground water aquifers. While a large number of people continue to depend on the Rain Gods or the government water tankers, in some areas people have begun to take initiative

In Gandhigram, a coastal village in Kutch district, the villagers had been facing a drinking water crisis for the past 10 to 12 years. The groundwater table had fallen below the sea level due to over-extraction and the seawater had seeped into the ground water aquifers. The villagers formed a village development group, Gram Vikas Mandal. The Mandal took a loan from the bank and the villagers contributed Shramdan. A check dam was built on a nearby seasonal river, which flowed past the village. Apart from the dam, the villagers also undertook a micro-watershed project. Due to these water retention structures, the villagers now have sufficient drinking water, and 400 hectares of land, which earlier lay barren, has come under irrigation.

Similar examples of people’s initiative in organizing rainwater harvesting can also be seen in the two villages of Khopala and Jhunka in Bhavnagar district of Saurashtra.

A noteworthy example of students’ participation in such an endeavor took place in 1995–98 at Bhavnagar University under the guidance of the, then Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Vidyut Joshi. The coastal city of Bhavnagar was facing a severe drinking water shortage. Prof. Joshi initiated the digging of a percolation tank in the university premises. About 650 students, 245 teachers and other employees of the university worked as voluntary labor. During the following monsoon, all the bore wells in the university as well as those in the adjoining areas were recharged.

3.2 Indian Environmental laws

In the Constitution of India it is clearly stated that it is the duty of the state to ‘protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’. It imposes a duty on every citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife’. Reference to the environment has also been made in the Directive Principles of State Policy as well as the Fundamental Rights. The Department of Environment was established in India in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country. This later became the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1985.

The constitutional provisions are backed by a number of laws – acts, rules, and notifications. The EPA (Environment Protection Act), 1986 came into force soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and is considered an umbrella legislation as it fills many gaps in the existing laws. Thereafter a large number of laws came into existence as the problems began arising, for example, Handling and Management of Hazardous Waste Rules in 1989.

Following is a list of the  legislations that have come into effect which are related to water quality and water use:


  1. 2.1 Water Laws

1882 – The Easement Act allows private rights to use a resource that is, groundwater, by viewing it as an attachment to the land. It also states that all surface water belongs to the state and is a state property.

1897 – The Indian Fisheries Act establishes two sets of penal offences whereby the government can sue any person who uses dynamite or other explosive substance in any way (whether coastal or inland) with intent to catch or destroy any fish or poisonous fish in order to kill.

1956 – The River Boards Act enables the states to enroll the central government in setting up an Advisory River Board to resolve issues in inter-state cooperation.

1974 – The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act establishes an institutional structure for preventing and abating water pollution. It establishes standards for water quality and effluent. Polluting industries must seek permission to discharge waste into effluent bodies.
The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) was constituted under this act.

1977 – The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act provides for the levy and collection of cess or fees on water consuming industries and local authorities.

1978 – The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules contains the standard definitions and indicate the kind of and location of meters that every consumer of water is required to affix.

1980 – The Forest (Conservation) Act and Rules, 1981, provides for the protection of and the conservation of the forests.

1991 – The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification puts regulations on various activities, including construction, are regulated. It gives some protection to the backwaters and estuaries.

1994 – EIA Notification As per this notification EIA Clearance has  become mandatory for River Valley projects including hydel power projects, major Irrigation projects and their combination including flood control project except projects relating to improvement work including widening and strengthening of existing canals with land acquisition upto a maximum of 20 meters, (on both sides put together) along the existing alignments provided such canals do not pass through ecologically sensitive areas such as national parks, sanctuaries, tiger reserves and reserve forests.


In India the surface water is a state subject and Indian laws reflect the state ownership of the resource. Of late at least ground water is also being regulated in the cities due to depletion of ground water table in the Urban mileu. In the United states most laws are of regulatory nature. As far as regional initiatives are concerned, in the US the initiatives are taken either by the corporate sector or the local regulatory authorities. InIndia of late democratic interventions with peoples initiatives abound. The NGOs too are playing an important role, especially in the field of water conservation.

However there are many structural similarities in terms of institutions which govern the water laws under the umbrellas of Environmental Protection Legislations.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, some of the core environmental laws in the US are:

  • National environmental policy
  • Chemical safety information and site security
  • Clean air
  • Clean water
  • The comprehensive environmental response, compensation and liability Act (also known as the Superfund Act)
  • Emergency planning and community right to know
  • Endangered species Act
  • Toxics control.

Most of these issues are covered in Indian environmental Acts that deal with clean air, clean water, clean environment, toxics and hazardous wastes, forest protection, wildlife protection, and the right to information.

In fact, in issues such as wildlife protection, the Indian legislation encompasses not merely the protection of an endangered species, but also the protection of the habitat in which they exist.

Even structurally, there are similarities between the American and Indian regulatory machinery. At the Federal level, the USEPA is designed with reasonable administrative autonomy.

While the Administrator — a political apointee — gives the political direction, the technical grounding is provided by the rest of the staff who are career technocrats. The Federal EPA liases with the State Governments through its regional offices.

In addition, there are Federal EPA laboratories in the eco-regions. For instance, the regional laboratory at Duluth, on the banks of the Lake Superior, is studying the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, flowing into the lake from point and non-point sources, on the aquatic animals. The result from these studies could get built into the Federal standards, either at the national level, or the eco-region level as required.

The States, in turn, have their own environmental regulation departments, which lay down the standards and implement them. Environmental departments at the county and municipality level follow these State departments, and work on laying down micro-level standards and implementation.

In India, the Centre-State hierarchy is more or the less the same with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs).

Most of the environment legislations used are those that have evolved from the Centre, but the power for their implementation has been delegated to the SPCBs.

The machinery, however, almost blurs as it reaches the local governments at the district and the town/village level. It is usually the district level office of the SPCB or the officials from the district, municipality or corporation who implement regulations at this level.

While both the laws and the structure of the regulatory machinery are reasonably similar in India and the US, the implementation of the laws are not.

And this is where the inadequacy of resources, infrastructure and manpower training come into the picture.

It is a rather delicate task to be an effective environmental regulatory agency. Neither can the agency close its eyes to pollution, nor can it clamp down so rigidly that it hampers economic growth.

To meet this responsibility it would require the ability to independently assess a project or issue. Without this the pollution control boards either become impotent to take any action, or carry out crusades. Neither of them achieve the desired optimum results.


The Efficacy of Environmental laws boils to the fine print of each law. Take for example the famous ‘Pesticides in soft drink’ issue. the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) announced that it was switching over to the more stringent European Union regulations for packaged water on which CSE had benchmarked its study. The then union health minister Sushma Swaraj had set an April 1, 2003, deadline for enforcing the new, stricter standards. However, reportedly there was  pressure from the packaged water industry and pesticide lobbies not to implement it.

“To gather data environment impact data on new pesticides, the industry can either approach government laboratories or private ones which have been approved by the authorities,” says N G Waghle, ex-vice-president, Pest Control India Limited. “There is an unholy nexus between private labs and the industry,” Waghle informs “At times, private laboratories don’t even bother to collect samples. They are more than willing to toe the industry’s line,” he adds. “As a result, data which would normally take 2-3 years to generate can be procured by companies within a month,” According to some sources the modus operandi involves backdating correspondence for ordering data.

Since Environment does not respect political boundaries three adjacent countries of North America namely Canada, Mexico and the United States an Environmental management System Document that not only assure compliance with environmental

laws and regulations but also encourage their users to improve their environmental

performance and to move “beyond compliance”. This document represents the first time the three North American governments have jointly expressed their views on how voluntary EMSs designed for internal management purposes can also serve the broader public policy goals of compliance assurance and improved environmental performance in regulated and non-regulated areas. Although no system can provide a guarantee of success, this document provides a list of 10 elements to help ensure that what needs to be done is being done to meet these goals. It is intended as a guidance for those organizations in the public and private sectors that seek an EMS applied in a way that will work effectively and build better relationships with customers, suppliers, lenders, investors or the local community as well as with government. All organizations have the right to choose the EMS model best suited to their internalneeds and goals. These EMSs can have external as well as internal value to those who use them. Properly implemented, they have the potential to improve corporate image, achieve financial savings through improved efficiency, lead to competitive advantage and achievemeasurable reductions in pollution of the environment. An EMS that follows through on acommitment to continuous improvement allows the organization using it to achieve betterperformance levels than those required by government regulation.


Copyright Manohar Khushalani Uno Universe



  1. Environmental policy-making in India – The process and its pressure, TERI report.
  2. Indian Environmental Legislations, list from the MOEF web site.
  3. Strengthening Environmental Legislations in India, document by Centre for Environmental Law, WWF.
  4. American Water Works Association
  5. Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI)
  6. Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
  7. Rocky Mountain Institute
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of
  9. Water Environment Federation (WEF)
  10. U.S Water News Online
  1. BSR Advisory Services, NY
  2. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  3. Indian Brand Equity Foundation
  4. No excuses please by S. Gopikrishna Warrier (Hindu Paper)
  5. GUIDANCE DOCUMENT- Improving Environmental Performance and Compliance:10 Elements of Effective Environmental Management Systems – Commission for Environmental Cooperation – June 2000

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