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Water worries for some in Chile's draft constitution

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Water worries for some in Chile's draft constitution

The proposals on water usage included in Chile’s new draft constitution would upend the current system, according to a representative of local law firm Montt Group.

“There are a few more doubts, rather than certainties,” Nicolás Suazo, a water law specialist at Montt Group Chile, said during a webinar.

He said that despite the inclusion of a provision in the new Magna Carta that states the existence of a “right to water”, it does not define exactly what that is. 

He also underlined that water rights would be replaced with administrative authorizations that would not be tradable and which would not constitute property rights, so there are significant questions about how the new system would operate, given the changes from the current situation.

Another issue Suazo highlighted was what would happen with water rights that have previously been awarded. He said that, aside from no longer being tradable, they would probably be subject to the same expiration rules set out under the reform to the country’s water code approved by congress earlier this year. 

At the same time, he predicted that there would be a difficult period of implementation of the new rules if the constitution is approved in the September 4 referendum, since that will require water regulator DGA to have more complete information on existing water rights. 

He therefore suggested that there would be an increase in inspections by authorities if a majority of voters approve the constitution. 

Suazo also mentioned that the draft document establishes “basin councils” for managing water sources, but pointed out that it is not specified who their members will be or whether water user organizations will be able to participate. 

Despite these questions, he underlined that, ultimately “a constitutional reform won’t bring rain, won’t recharge aquifers [and] won’t solve the mega-drought,” referring to the current water shortages affecting much of central and northern Chile.

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