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Back to Legislation on Use of Water in Agriculture

I.  Background

Nicaraguan policy on water rights emphasizes that water is in the public domain and is a strategic resource.  Human consumption is a priority issue for water legislation as are the preservation of water and the development of a water rights system.[1] Within this system, agricultural water rights are of importance. Agriculture is the principal sector of Nicaragua’s economy.  It represents over 80% of exports and employs one third of the labor force.  According to the World Trade Organization, over one-fifth of Nicaragua’s GDP comes from the agricultural sector (agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry), with 9.9% from agriculture alone.[2] 

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II.  Legal Framework

The Constitution regards natural resources as the national patrimony and charges the state with the responsibility for their conservation, development, and rational exploitation.[3]  The Constitution also states that it is the obligation of the state to promote, facilitate, and regulate the provision of basic public services, among them water services.[4]  The Civil Code establishes that lakes, rivers, ponds, canals, freshwater streams, and fountains are public, and it is lawful for anyone to use them within the restrictions imposed by the law and administrative regulations.[5]  The National General Water Law (Ley General de Aguas Nacionales), promulgated in 2007, governs the use of water, including its use in agriculture.[6]  The Law provides for the creation of the National Water Authority (ANA) and charges it with the responsibility of administering, planning, and controlling the use of water resources in the country.[7]  The ANA’s functions include granting, modifying, extending, suspending, and terminating concessions and licenses for using water.[8]

A.  Concessions

Under the Regulation of the National Water Law, water concessions must include at least the following elements: the name of the licensee, type of water source, exact geographical location of the concession, exact delimitation of the concession area, manner in which the water will be used, volume of water to be used, expiration date of the concession, and points of extraction and discharge.  They are also to include any other information that the ANA deems necessary.[9]

A concession may be granted for a term of not less than five nor more than thirty years. [10]  Concessions may be extended for the same term, volume of water, and kind of use as long as their holders incur no cause for termination under the Law and apply for the extension of the concession at least six months before its expiration.[11]

With respect to authorizations of water for agricultural and livestock (but not industrial) uses, farm owners of seventy acres or less require only municipal authorization.  Owners of farms that are larger than seventy acres require authorization or a concession issued by the ANA or the Basin Organization (Organismo de Cuenca).  Farmers or ranchers also require authorization from the ANA, regardless of the size of their property, when their products are marketed for industrial purposes.[12]

B.  Water for Domestic Use

Anyone is entitled without authorization to use national waters for the purpose of human or livestock consumption provided that they obtain the water through the use of human- or animal-operated manual or mechanical means, have access to the water sources, do not cause damage to third parties, and do not alter the water quality or perform activities that in any way harm or alter the streambed and its banks, or contaminate it.[13] 

C.  Water Conservation

The National Water Law provides that it is in the public interest to ensure the quality of national water sources through promoting and implementing the measures and actions necessary for their proper and permanent protection and conservation.  The Law prohibits the cutting of trees or plants of any kind that are within an area of two hundred meters from the  banks of rivers and shores of lakes and ponds in order to protect water sources.[14]

The Law directs the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), in consultation with the National Water Authority (ANA), to adopt and implement such strategic plans as the following to ensure the protection of national waters:

  • Promoting the implementation of plans to protect water sources in river basins and aquifers;
  • Promoting or carrying out the necessary measures to prevent waste and toxic substances from contaminating the nation’s water and public properties;
  • Implementing programs to reduce the emissions of pollutants;
  • Bringing about consultations between water users and other civil society groups to determine quality goals, deadlines for achieving them, and the resources to be obtained for this purpose;
  • Coordinating studies and other work necessary to determine discharge parameters, the assimilation and dilution capacity of national water bodies, and permissible pollutant loads; and
  • Participating with other institutions responsible for conducting studies to evaluate water quality, monitoring human consumption needs, monitoring wastewater for conformity with quality standards, implementing efficient rapid response mechanisms in emergency and environmental contingencies, and conducting studies to identify and repair environmentally damaged water bodies.[15] 

D.  Water Quality

Nicaragua has many obligatory technical standards (NTONs), but if one exists that establishes limits for the pollutants allowed in water for agricultural use and the environmental standards that water-concession holders must comply with, we were unable to locate it in our available sources.

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Prepared by Norma C. Gutiérrez
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
October 2013


[1] Paula Novo & Alberto Garrido, The New Nicaraguan Water Law in Context,  International Food  Policy Research Institute,  IFPRI Discussion Paper 01005 (July 2010), http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files /publications/ifpridp01005.pdf.

[2] World Trade Organization, Trade Policy Review: Nicaragua, Report by the Secretariat, at 57, WT/TPR/S/167 (June 19, 2006), http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s167-00_e.doc.

[3] Constitución Política de la República de Nicaragua art. 102, (La Gaceta, Diario Oficial [L.G.], Sept. 16, 2010).

[4] Id. art. 105.

[5] Código Civil art. 611 (Impresiones La Universal, Managua, 2001). 

[6] Ley General de Aguas Nacional, No. 620, L.G., Sept. 4, 2007.

[7] Id. arts. 24, 26 & 27

[8] Id. art. 26(j).

[9] Decreto No. 44-2010, Reglamento de la Ley No. 620, Ley General de Aguas Nacionales (hereinafter, Reglamento de la Ley General de Aguas Nacionales) art. 45, L.G., Aug. 9, 2010.

[10] Ley General de Aguas Nacionales art. 48.

[11] Id. art. 53.

[12] Reglamento de la Ley General de Aguas Nacionales art. 71.

[13] Ley General de Aguas Nacionales art. 67.

[14] Id. art. 96.

[15] Id. art. 101.

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Last Updated: 09/16/2014