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Water rights set to be hot topic in Chile’s constitutional convention

Bnamericas Published: Friday, July 02, 2021
Water rights set to be hot topic in Chile’s constitutional convention

Water rights in Chile will be a hotly-debated issue in Chile’s constitutional convention, as members of the assembly that will draft the new constitution are already divided over the issue prior to the first session, due to be held on July 4. 

A survey conducted by Radio Pauta showed that 64 of the 155 members of the constitutional convention are in favor of scrapping the provision establishing that water rights-holders have ownership rights to the resource, meaning that any motion to preserve the current system would fall short of the two thirds majority needed to pass. 

One of those who supports eliminating these water ownership rights is former rural water official Gloria Alvarado, who was elected as an independent candidate. 

She argues that the new constitution should move towards a development model that is less dependent on exploiting natural resources such as water and more geared towards preserving them in the long term. 

“We’re acting as if private property is boundless, and it isn’t,” she argued during a water rights webinar held by the water law and management center of Universidad Católica de Chile.

She warned that the current model was overexploiting water for the sake of “economic growth madness”.

One constituent who is in favor of modifying the current system is Eduardo Cretton, a representative of the right-wing UDI party. 

During the webinar, he pointed out that rewriting the constitution would not solve the two core issues of Chile’s water crisis: lack of infrastructure and climate change

With regard to how the new constitution should treat current water rights-holders, Cretton pointed out that “any change has to be made taking into consideration the rights of farmers who have invested in water infrastructure on their own account.”

If the convention decides in favor of expropriating existing water rights, he said he hopes that at least the new constitution will have clear provisions on how this will be carried out and he predicted that this will also be a hot topic of debate. 

Meanwhile constituent Roberto Vega, of the ruling RN party and who was included in the Pauta poll as “undecided”, called for a stronger regulatory role for water watchdog DGA, which is responsible for handling water rights. 

“In Chile the problem is lack of management and, in some cases, it’s not raining like it did before,” he said, adding that water user associations also need to be strengthened. 

As of the end of June, DGA had over 184,000 valid sets of water rights registered, with some dating as far back as 100 years.

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