In Tarata (Cochabamba, Bolivia) disputes came to a head in 2002 over the rights to use water for urban agriculture from a multiple purpose water supply system (Laka Laka). The Laka Laka dam was planned to provide water for a large irrigation scheme and to meet the basic needs of domestic users in the town, but not specifically for productive water uses within the urban area. When the urban population demanded the right to also use water for cultivation around homesteads, there were violent conflicts with farmers from the irrigation scheme who were determined to protect their irrigation water rights.
Almost 5% of the estimated reservoir yield (or 10% of the storage capacity) was originally allocated for urban water supply, but this could not be used for drinking water supply due to the poor water quality and high costs of treatment. The urban community organised to utilise this water, on the basis of advice they received from local government supporting their proposals, for irrigation of 'huertas' (small plots close to homesteads) instead. An organisation was formed to develop the project and infrastructure to supply this water to huertas.
The paper reports the findings of a case-study to investigate the nature and causes of the conflict. It addresses the multiple uses of water and sources for domestic supply, urban agriculture and field-scale irrigation, and the potentially complex legislation, institutional arrangements, rights and expectations associated with these different water uses.