Factsheet #62

Hierarchy of priorities/preferences for water allocation

Instrument Type


Governance Level


Governance Mode


Water management topics addressed

Drought & water scarcity
Water abstraction for irrigation and other economic activities

Implementation requirements

Financial capacity


Human capacity


Political buy-in


Timeframe for implementation


#62: Hierarchy of priorities/preferences for water allocation


The responsible authority coordinates the allocation of water at the basin level using formal allocation rules. This instrument is especially relevant during drought periods, but can also be used within the normal process of granting concessions.


The use of water in drought situations, and possibly also when granting concessions, follows an established and clear hierarchical order. The order can be determined in the river basin management plan. Typically urban water supply is assigned the highest priority. 

Example: Priority of uses for water resources in Spain

In Spain, a formal priority ranking for uses of water resources is established at river basin level. It acquires particular relevance in times of drought (with restrictions affecting non-priority uses earlier than priority uses), but it is also referred to when granting concessions. The highest priority is given urban water supply, followed by irrigation and agricultural use, industrial uses (electricity production has higher priority), aquaculture, recreational uses, navigation and transport and other, residual uses. Different configurations can be arranged within the individual River Basin Management Plans, but urban water supply must always have the highest priority.


STEER (2019). Assessment of variables in the five in-depth case studies of the STEER project. Internal Report. (p. 187)

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