River basin management is a highly complex process, and institutions need to embed ethics and integrity both internally and externally. A river basin is an area of land drained by a river and its tributaries. River basins support a great diversity of people, environments, cultures and jurisdictions and require suitable institutions; allocating a basin’s water resources requires policy instruments and management strategies to ensure just and equal access to water without compromising the health of the river (Das, 2012).
Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is promoted globally as an effective way of improving the coordination of river basin management. The SDGs now target global implementation by 2030. However, there is no formal standard for integrated, holistic or adaptive approaches to the management of water in river basins. The closest to a global standard is the guidelines maintained by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and adopted by international agencies collaborating under the UN-Water umbrella (GWP and INBO, 2009), but a myriad of interpretations and variations have been developed (Sanchez and Roberts, 2014; UNESCO, 2009).
River basin organizations (RBOs) play a key role in basin management, in the form of councils, committees, commissions, agencies, authorities or corporations, with jurisdictions crossing districts or municipalities. While necessary for effective basin management, such cross-sectoral cooperation may increase corruption risks, as the level of social control and administrative monitoring decreases when interactions occur outside the established system (Butterworth, 2008). Water integrity is often neglected or not systematically factored in (WIN et al., 2011).
Integrity issues in RBOs resemble those of water utilities, and require similar answers. Specific issues include the following.
RBOs are making efforts to address the integrity challenges, and a ‘good practice’ example from Indonesia elaborates on some of these efforts.
The Jasa Tirta I Public Corporation (PJT1) is a state-owned legally independent RBO in Indonesia that operates five river basins. It was established to solve managerial, personnel and financial problems affecting water resources infrastructure in three river basins of Indonesia starting with the Brantas river basin. It is supervised by central and provincial government representatives.
PJT1 has adopted a consultative and proactive approach, developed a series of tools and become a model for integrity for other Indonesian river basins.
The management of river basins is fraught with challenges in relation to integrity. The need for basin management is in itself an integrity problem, best captured in the concept of upstream/downstream. An upstream position in a river basin is a position of power. Downstream users need to invest significant resources to secure their rights and entitlements. Powerful user groups might attempt to pressure basin management institutions to influence water allocation and environmental regulation in their favour, creating conflicts with other sectors and small-scale users. Intersectoral coordination bears risks of corruption when different sectors have unequal powers. There is a need for countervailing powers through mechanisms including monitoring. It is important to analyse integrity risks and find ways to reduce corruption in basin institutions.
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Download WIGO Spread: River Basins
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Download WIGO 2016 (full)
 Based on the ISO 9001:2008.