Restrictions (RR)

Compiled by:
Aleix Ferrer Duch (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

Restrictions and prohibitions are a part of command & control tools, i.e. which are regulatory instruments that are direct and mandatory. Restrictions, rationing or full prohibitions are legal prescriptions that have a direct impact on the range of options open to specified social actors, as they constrain certain ways of acting or exclude some forms of conduct. It is assumed that actors behave according to the prescription or norm in order to avoid penalties. Enforcement mechanisms and agencies are fundamental to the viability and effectiveness of restriction instruments. Enforcement policies rely on a variety of instruments, ranging from license withdrawal to criminal prosecution. A classical example is the restriction of water use during dry summers or droughts. For example, the use of water for non-essential purposes, such as washing cars or for watering flowers has been restricted in Australia of many years (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Restrictions and Prohibitions as a Part of Command & Control Tools

A restriction is less strict than a prohibition. A prohibition strictly forbids something, and a restriction just limits something, but does not forbid it in general. Specific actions or specific outcomes of actions can be restricted to certain conditions, rationed, or prohibited entirely. For example, during dry summers or droughts, the use of water for non-essential purposes, such as washing cars or for watering flowers is restricted in some countries as for example Australia. Accordingly, restrictions place limits on the scope or freedom of action and prohibitions forbid the use of something, or command against it (e.g. illegal discharge).

Restrictions and prohibitions are prescribed by mandatory orders. Thus, the rationale of this instrument type is based exclusively on command, control, and sanction. It is assumed that actors behave according to the prescription or norm in order to avoid penalties. Enforcement mechanisms and agencies are fundamental to the viability and effectiveness of restriction instruments. Enforcement policies rely on a variety of (conditional or secondary) instruments, ranging from licence withdrawal to criminal prosecution. Enforcement measures often involve an economic component in addition to the pure regulatory aspect (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Main Implementation Actors and Target Groups

In most democracies, only the legislative authorities are legitimised to use command and control instruments for the use of public goods like water. Although their implementation may be (partly) delegated to private bodies, the final decision on their application (and eventual enforcement measures) remains with the public authorities. However, on a lower level also communities, institutions (such as schools) and even households can apply restrictions within their premises. The Dalit Shakti Kendra, a vocational training institute in Gujarat, India for example, has stringent restrictions for water use for its students (e.g. only 15l of water per shower are allowed) to save precious drinking water.

Restriction instruments can be used to influence the behaviour of any target group: individuals (e.g. who are restricted in their water use for non-essential purposes) as well as corporate actors or private companies (which are restricted in discharging certain chemicals to the wastewater). Basically, these instruments apply in the same way to every actor or group of actors specified in the legal norm (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001).

Things to Consider Before Applying Restriction Tools

The implementation and enforcement of restrictions instruments can be troublesome in many respects. Often, implementation places heavy demands on technical competence as well as on the amount of available human and financial resources to control the compliance with imposed restrictions (KAUFMANN-HAYOZ et al. 2001). Legislation must be clear (see also legal framework, both in regard to the way the authorities plan to control the imposed restrictions, and to what will happen to this people, which do not show compliance and are caught.

When applying restrictions, their announcements should indicate:


  • commencement and termination dates
  • a description of the restriction levels and where they apply
  • definitions for each restriction level
  • the target
  • and the geographic area in which the restriction conditions apply (COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA 2008)


Longer-lasting reductions in different kinds of pollution or overuse are achieved by a combination of software tools such as awareness rising, education for specific user groups, economic tools, etc. These software approaches aim at changing behaviours of local communities related to water and sanitation in a sustainable way. All those interventions have their advantages and disadvantages and require different expertise and different time scales for implementation. The combination of appropriate software tools varies depending on the socio-economic, political and environmental context prevailing in a country (GWP 2009). It is important to choose the right communication channel (radio, television, internet, posters…) to reach these users most efficiently.

Typical Examples for Restrictions at the Individual Consumer Level

 Sydney Water (2010)

Awareness raising campaign on TV in Sydney, were people are looking at their watch before watering their garden. Source: SYDNEY WATER (2010)

A classical example in water use restrictions is drought stages planning, which has been done in Australia at different governmental levels for many years (see also water use restrictions for more detailed information on this issue). The success of this approach is due to sensitising campaigns, good monitoring and sanctioning systems, as well as the gathered experience throughout the years. For instance, the water use for gardening is only allowed before 10 am and after 4 pm, in order to avoid that too much of the irrigation water just evaporates during the hot times of the day.

Other examples could be restrictions or prohibition when accessing clean water sources. In some countries with regular water shortages, people only get water every alternate day to their houses when water reservoirs do not contain enough fresh water (see also intermittent water distribution). Furthermore, other examples are restrictions on the amount of chemicals used in order to purify water or treat wastewater or temporary or local restrictions in water collection activities or in wastewater reuse or restrictions in big amounts of water recharge.


Restrictions and prohibitions are like all other command and control tools, top-down instruments that can be used to achieve a more sustainable water use. They are easy to enact but difficult to implement because people have to understand and see their use and purpose. It is necessary that the compliance with restrictions can be monitored, and non-compliance can be sanctioned.

It is essential to combine command and control tools like restrictions and prohibitions with software tools such as awareness rising campaigns and information and education campaigns in order to achieve a sustainable success.


  • Highly foreseeable effectiveness
  • Effective if easy to implement and targeted towards regionally limited problems
  • Can be rapidly implemented by government bodies (once laws are established)
  • Effective, as people want to avoid the penalties for non-compliance
  • Spread of best available technologies
  • Effective in the long term, even when restrictions are not imposed any more, thanks to the learning effect


  • Only effective if compliance can be controlled and non-compliance punished
  • Is not a flexible tool, so it is not empowering environmental policies
  • High costs to control whether restrictions are followed
  • Is an instrument based on imposition; does not necessarily motivate people to collaborate; can result in political disapproval
  • Creating and instituting laws is time-consuming and has administrative costs

References Library

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA (Editor) (2008): Summary Report for Providing New, Ongoing and Historical Water Information. Information about water restrictions. Australia: Bureau of Meteorology. URL [Accessed: 08.04.2010].

KAUFMANN-HAYOZ, R.; BAETTIG, C.; BRUPPACHER, S.; DEFILA, R.; DI GIULIO, A.; FLURY-KLEUBER, P.; FRIEDERICH, U.; GARBELY, M.; JAEGGI, C.; JEGEN, M.; MOSLER, H.J.; MUELLER, A.; NORTH, N.; ULLI-BEER, S.; WICHTERMANN, J. (2001): A Typology of Tools for Building Sustainability Strategies. In: KAUFMANN-HAYOZ, R. (Editor); GUTSCHER, H. (Editor) (2001): Changing Things – Moving People. Strategies for Promoting Sustainable Development at the Local Level. Basel, 33-108.

GWP (Editor) (2009): Integrated Water Resources Management Toolbox. C6 REGULATORY INSTRUMENTS – Allocation and water use limits. Global Water Partnership(GWP) . URL [Accessed: 18.03.2010].

BPR (Editor) (2008): Background on Water Conservation. California: Blue Planet Run (BPR). URL [Accessed: 08.04.2010].

SYDNEY WATER (Editor) (2010): Water Wise Rules. Video Screen Shot. Sidney: Sidney Water. URL [Accessed: 23.05.2012].

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

PORTO, M.; LOBATO, F. (2004): Mechanisms of Water Management: Command & Control and Social Mechanisms (Part 1 of 2). In: REGA (Revista de Gestão de Água da América Latina) 1, 113-129.

Paper describing the Mechanisms of Command & Control in combination with other SSWM tools in Brazil.

Reference icon

PAHL-WOSTL, C.; SENDZIMIR, J.; JEFFREY, P.; AERTS, J.; BERKAMP, G.; CROSS, K. (2007): Managing Change toward Adaptive Water Management through Social Learning. In: Ecology and Society 12, 2.

Describes how the principles of adaptive water management might improve the conceptual and methodological base for sustainable and integrated water management in an uncertain and complex world.

Reference icon

WATER FOREVER (Editor) (2008): Water Restrictions (Southern Part of WA). Information sheet. WATER FOREVER . URL [Accessed: 23.04.2010].

Short description of what water restrictions are, focussing on Western Australia.

Case Studies Library

Reference icon

ALLEN CONSULTING (Editor) (2007): Saying Goodbye to Permanent Water Restrictions in Australia's Cities. Key Priorities for Achieving Water Security. URL [Accessed: 04.04.2010].

This paper presents a case for removing metropolitan permanent water restrictions by 2012. To achieve this goal, a water industry reform will need to be pursued on a number of fronts.

Reference icon

DOLGORMAA, L. (2004): Toxics Issues in Mongolia. WWF Mongolia Programme Office. URL [Accessed: 26.03.2010].

An case study on restrictions for chemicals: After 1990, when Mongolia shifted to democracy, the Government developed and approved the Law on Protection from Toxic Chemicals in 1995 and updated a list of restricted or banned chemicals in Mongolia, including persistent organic pollutants, in 1997.

Reference icon

KENNEY, D.S.; KLEIN, R.A.; CLARK, M.P. (2004): Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Water Restrictions During Drought in Colorado. In: Journal of the American Water Resources Association 21, 77-87.

This report is an analysis of different approaches utilized by eight water providers to determine the achieved levels of water savings. Mandatory restrictions are shown to be an effective tool for drought coping.

Reference icon

WWF (Editor); ADENA (Editor) (2006): Illegal Water Use in Spain. Causes, Effects and Solutions. Madrid: URL [Accessed: 26.03.2010].

Worldwide, agriculture accounts for a large part of water usage. Illegal use of water in agriculture is a worldwide problem, and WWF presents different solutions – including restrictions – to tackle them.

Important Weblinks [Accessed: 23.03.2010]

This website is a useful tool to find strategies to save water at home, at school or at work. Water corporation also works in water restriction policy making. [Accessed: 26.03.2010]

This website was conceived in 2005 when it became more and more apparent that the UK was facing a future where current water supplies could not be guaranteed. Consumers and companies can get points of reference to find out about the hosepipe ban, water shortage and droughts in general. [Accessed: 26.03.2010]

Compilation of water laws throughout human history and around the world. [Accessed: 04.08.2010]

Congress authorises EPA and other federal agencies to write rules and regulations that explain the critical details necessary to implement environmental laws. Below are some of the key rules and regulations that the Office of Water employs to implement key statutes and programs [Accessed: 09.09.2010]

This very short example illustrates the use of a Venn diagram to show the social structure in a village. [Accessed: 04.08.2010]

Example - This site by the city of Longmont describes prohibitions for storm drain discharges directly to the river without treatment. [Accessed: 16.02.2011]

Australia suffers from drought for a large part of the year. That is why the Sydney water council has a structure on how to act preventively to reduce negative consequences. [Accessed: 15.03.2011]

The steps that the City of Long Beach (California) has taken include the implementation of the Extraordinary Water Conservation plan. This award-winning plan includes elements of consumer education, distribution of water saving devices, consumer rebates, and the adoption of water prohibitions. [Accessed: 15.03.2011]

This 30 seconds governmental advertisement in national television was produced to present the water restrictions in an attractive way.