The rise of the glorious Persian Empire during the Achaemenid period
and its exaltation during the Sassanid era and the longing of this
civilization was owed to the Iranian hydrology science.
The study of water rights in Iran is not feasible without considering the
country’s legislative history in this area as well as organizational and
administrative developments. Therefore, this article has tried to attract
the attention of readers to the importance of water rights and the need to
pay heed to law specialty by briefly reviewing the legislative developments
in the water industry and examining the country’s water resources problems.
In accordance with Article 44 of the Constitutional Law of the Islamic
Republic of Iran, the economic system of the country is based on three
sectors: state, cooperative, and private. Also, according to Article 45 of
the said law wastelands and public wealth, abandoned or unclaimed land of
deceased owners, seas, lakes, rivers, and other public bodies of water, and…
are under the control of the Islamic government and it will treat them in
accordance with the public interest. The first important law ratified after
the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1982 was that of fair distribution
of water. According to Article 21 of this law, the allocation and
authorization of exploitation of public bodies of water resources for
drinking, agricultural, industrial and other uses was the monopoly of the
Ministry of Energy. According to Note 2 of this law, however, “the previous
policy concerning management of cities’ water by local authorities” was
approved and a new organization foresaw for it.
According to this note, distribution of urban water, administration of
facilities, and collection and disposal of sewage within the city limits
would be carried out by independent companies called city Water and Sewage
Company, or another appropriate body, in which case it would work under the
supervision of a council affiliated to the Municipality.
Also, the government’s macro investment in managing water resources and
related facilities and the need to prevent any damage to water facilities
has required enactment of penal rules and regulations to deal with
Therefore, since 1968 and simultaneously with the endorsement of
Nationalization of Water Resources Act, the Water and Electricity Department
was authorized to file lawsuits as the private plaintiff against violators
in the country’s water resources.
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution and adoption of the Islamic
Penal Code, necessary provisions for prosecution and punishment of
perpetrators were ratified.
More than 90% of the country’s total water has been consumed in
the agricultural and industrial sectors and less than 9% of it
is devoted to drinking water.
In the first stage, the legislature clearly identified ownership of waters
by formulating and regulating regulations related to the correct use and
exploitation of waters, and then codified criminal laws and regulations. The
reason for the legislature’s attention to the issue of water is its
importance in the perpetuation of human life; because after air, water is
the most important element needed for the life of creatures and the health
of all living things, including humans, plants, and animals depends on it.
Water covers more than three quarters of planet Earth and over 97% of these
waters are in the oceans and seas. About 2% are also accumulated in the
shape of ice and glaciers in Polar Regions. But, most of these waters
contain salt and only one percent of all available water is fresh and
usable. All the needs of human beings, plants and animals living on the land
and 90% of drinking water for humans are supplied from this same amount. The
Iranian people have long been aware of the value of water as an invigorating
and valuable substance.
The natural need of mankind to water, the geographical location of the
Iranian plateau and the scarcity of this precious liquid has multiplied the
value of this vital element to the Iranian people and placed it in high
The rise of the glorious Persian Empire during the Achaemenid period and its
exaltation during the Sassanid era and the longing of this civilization was
owed to the Iranian hydrology science.
Stones and tablets from the ancient Persia indicate that the people of Iran
brought the underground water by digging long and very deep aqueducts and
supplied it to villages and cities. The total length of Iranian aqueducts is
more than 400 thousand kilometers (more than the distance from the Earth to
the Moon) and the Gonabad Aqueduct, with a length of thirty-three kilometers
and also wells with a depth of more than 300 meters, at regular intervals of
50 meters from the Achaemenid period is a unique masterpiece throughout the
world. Currently, according to the latest figures released by the Water
Resources Management Company, there are 37,000 aqueducts in the country,
which totally drain more than 7 billion cubic meters of underground waters.
During the last century, a series of basic principles has always been
adhered to and taken into account in some way in the organization of water
management structure of the country.
These basic principles include observing the basic element of integrity and
unity of water resources management in all water management processes,
including planning, design, implementation and operation and comparing the
organizational system of water management with the natural geography and
hydrology system, or in other words, the formulation of a water management
structure based on the structure of the natural watersheds, which is one of
the main features and principles of water management.
In one of its reports, the water statistics journal states that the
management organization in Iran in the last century has undergone four
distinct steps as follows:
Initial stage (1926/7–1961/2): This phase began around 1305 (1926/7), with a
population of 11 million people, and covers until 1340 (1961/2). At the
early stage of this period and before that, the water sector had no place in
terms of organization and planning, and the landowners addressed the issues
of local water management within the framework of feudalism.
The capacity of regulatory water of the commissioned dams at the
beginning of the Revolution was 14 billion and 609 million cubic
meters, which has now risen to about 50 billion cubic meters.
Formation Stage (1960/1-1980/1): The country was on the brink of
socioeconomic transformations, which led to the collapse of feudalism. This
stage was accompanied by the expansion of the urban system and the service
sector, as well as the centralization of power in the hands of the central
government. In 1340 (1961/2), the Law on the Establishment of the Ministry
of Water and Electricity was approved. As a result, the independent
irrigation company was dissolved and its duties were defined in the new
organization of the Ministry of Water and Electricity. In this new ministry,
water resources management tasks, including providing water for agriculture,
urban and industrial sectors, the production of hydroelectric energy and
municipal sewage disposal, were found to be more specific.
Developmental Stage (1980/1-1996/7): The new management of water after the
victory of the Islamic Revolution began in this period. In 1359 (1980/1),
the Ministry of Energy’s regional power and utilities division was divided
into two sections: water and electricity.
Coherence Stage (from 1997/8 to now): In this period, separation of the
governance functions from government involvement was the goal of all the
programs. Effective structural measures were taken in line with the
integrated approach to water management in this period. In order to
coordinate policy for activities related to supply, transfer and
distribution of water in different sectors in 1380 (2001/2), the Council of
Water was formed under the supervision of the President.
The adoption of the general policies of Article 44 of the Constitution in
June 2005 and the subsequent adoption of the “Law on Amendment of Some
Articles of the Fourth Development Plan and Implementation of General
Policies of Article 44” in 2007 led to a change in the organizational
structure of the Ministry of Energy and water industry.
With the implementation of this law, six specialized mother companies were
established in the Ministry of Energy with three companies, namely
“Construction and Supply Management for Water and Power (Satkab)” and “Iran
Water Resources Management Company” as well as “Water and Sewage Company of
Iran (Abfa)” were active in the water sector, and thus an organizational
change was created in terms of legal and administrative relations governing
the water sector of the country.
Of course, the changes made in the water industry were not limited to
structural and legal changes, and the hardware aspect should be taken into
consideration as well. One of these basic hardware measures was the
construction of dams to control water.
The study and design of large reservoir dams began around 1327 (1948/9), and
the construction of these dams began in the late 1960s. With the victory of
the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the “dam construction industry” entered a
new stage in development and progress. If we look at the economic
infrastructure of the country 40 years after the victory of the Islamic
Revolution, despite eight years of an imposed war and then a variety of
Western sanctions, we can see development in the economic infrastructure of
the country. The total number of dams in the country was 27 before the
victory of the Revolution and reached 647 according to data released in
The capacity of regulatory water of the commissioned dams at the beginning
of the Revolution was 14 billion and 609 million cubic meters, which has now
risen to about 50 billion cubic meters.
Another important issue that needs to be addressed in legal terms and has
created many problems for the country in the area of water is the issue of
international border waters. There are a number of large rivers located in
the border areas of the country (such as Atrak, Aras, Arvand and Hirmand).
Legal status of how and how much of these rivers should be used relates to
international law on water, including agreements between Iran and
neighboring countries and international conventions. Serious attention to
this issue will result in vindication of Iran’s rights.
According to the managing director of Iran’s Water Resources Management
Company, there are 200,000 unlawful semi-deep wells and 110,000 deep wells
in the country. Taking into consideration of nearly 400,000 authorized
wells, the number of wells in the country goes beyond 700,000. However, with
the approval of legislations, the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, and the
regional water organizations’ departments have managed to block unauthorized
wells in the past 15 years. So far, according to statistics, more than
200,000 unauthorized wells have been blocked.
More than 90% of the country’s total water has been consumed in the
agricultural and industrial sectors and less than 9% of it is devoted to
drinking water. If the government promptly urges farmers to use pipelines
for transfer of water from the source (the well mouth or the outlet of the
aqueduct or the river) to the consumption place (agricultural land or
orchard), and equip the lands and orchards with the new irrigation systems,
at least more than 60 percent of water is saved (i.e. 70 billion cubic
meters), and not only the current crisis caused by water shortages will be
completely eliminated, but also huge surplus water resources that are more
than six times the current water consumption in the household sector will be
spent on developing the country.
And lastly, due to the importance of energy rights and its specialties
(water rights, electricity/power rights, nuclear rights, oil and gas rights,
renewable energy rights), the course syllabus of this branch of law has been
designed and approved during the past three years, and God willing the
country’s universities will start enrolling students at master’s level of
energy law from the next academic year. And the doctoral course on water
rights will be sanctioned in the near future.