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The Chilean supreme court's ruling in favor of national sanitation service authority SISS in a suit challenging its interpretation of water rights supports the position held by utilities, the research manager for national water utility association Andess, Patricio Herrada, told BNamericas.
"This is without a doubt an important precedent regarding the ownership of treated wastewater. Previously there had been a significant controversy stemming from farmers and legislators alleging that treated wastewater does not belong to the service providers," Herrada said.
The court ruled 5-0 in favor of SISS in the suit presented by local irrigation users, which argued that water rights granted to utilities require treated water to be returned to its original source and that SISS erroneously interpreted Chilean laws by allowing utilities to sell the water.
The May 17 ruling confirmed a 3-0 decision in favor of SISS by the court of appeals. Although the court ruling deals specifically with the sanitation authority's mandate, in essence it addresses the issue of water rights.
"Hence its importance - because in ruling in favor of the legal interpretation made by SISS [the court] confirms the view held by water utilities, which is that they own wastewater under the consumptive rights granted by the state, " Herrada said.
National agriculture association SNA has argued that utilities selling wastewater poses a grave threat to agriculture and could result in the loss of thousands of hectares of crops. However, this argument holds little weight with Andess.
"It's important to point out that water utilities use only about 5% of the total national water resources. The rest is mainly used by farmers - with about 30% efficiency - and mining companies and general industry," Herrada said.