In this article, three countries' experiences with decentralized water resources management are profiled. Comparative analysis provides an illustration of some of the challenges that countries may face when implementing decentralized water laws and policies. In particular, the case studies demonstrate that income levels and financial resources play a significant role in the success of decentralized water resources management. In Haiti, decentralization policies have been largely ineffective, as statutory authorization for water resources management at both national and local levels has not been coupled with the financial or human resources required to effectively manage water resources. A similar story is being played out in Rwanda, though coordination efforts between the national and local governments have managed to overcome typical challenges faced by developing states. By contrast, the ideals of the principle of subsidiarity are well represented in the United States, where the state of Florida has established powerful integrated water resources management structures to balance the needs of water users.
Haiti, Rwanda, and Florida have been selected for detailed study because they offer varied and timely lessons for the international community. First, the countries represent a spectrum of experiences with the principle of subsidiarity, from chaotic fragmentation in Haiti, to insufficient capacity in Rwanda, to a working model for decentralized water governance on a large scale in Florida. It is likely that most countries' decentralization efforts will fall within this spectrum. Second, the case studies show that while income levels play a large role in the viability of decentralization efforts, economic well-being is not the only factor relevant in determining the success of a decentralization effort. While Haiti and Rwanda share similar levels of economic development, Rwanda's experience shows that creating a robust statutory framework can contribute to water resources management efforts even if financial support is lacking. At the same time, Florida's water management districts must address and resolve complex political challenges regardless of sustainable financing mechanisms. Finally, the countries are selected to demonstrate that the principle of subsidiarity cannot be implemented overnight. While donors and the international community may aggressively promote decentralized water governance in countries like Haiti and Rwanda, the case studies show that decentralization takes time and sustainable support structures to implement. Even in Florida - where decentralized water governance has been taking place for over forty years - decentralized water resources management remains an evolving public challenge.
While the case studies are not intended to articulate a global rule for the principle of subsidiarity in water resources management frameworks, they will demonstrate that decentralized water resources management should be undertaken with an emphasis on the financial and human resources needed to successfully carry out that approach. Without strong and well-funded institutions, local governments will struggle to effectively manage water resources, and cannot be considered the appropriate governance level the subsidiarity principle envisions. [excerpt]