Energy, Natural Resources & the Environment
Waste treatment and water supply public services

Principal Investigator
João Miranda
Research Team
Heloísa Oliveira
Jorge da Silva Sampaio
Tiago Antunes
Ana Luísa Guimarães
Filipe Brito Bastos
Mark Kirkby
Rui Cunha Marques, Instituto Superior Técnico
The growing role of public corporations in water and waste public utilities and the foreseeable increase of private sector participation in the implementation of these tasks should lead us to rethink the role of the State in this field. These changes may involve a paradigm shift from a State responsible for providing these utilities to a State which refers to regulatory functions or quality control.
Moreover, in a context of budgetary austerity, there are conditions for the emergence of multiple tensions between the different actors, both public and private, as reflected in the growth of judicial litigation between them. One should seek to find solutions that, without jeopardizing the quality of public services, do not prove themselves financially unsustainable.
The present project aims to contribute to a more adequate formulation, implementation and monitoring of water and waste public policies, in particular through scientific and academic debate of the choices made by decision-makers and the presentation of alternative paths to the problems.
1) Framing public water and waste utilities in the wider context of the public policies that have been pursued;
2) Assess the developments that took place in Portugal in terms of water and waste public policies, establishing a comparative framework with other member states of the European Union, defining "benchmarks" and identifying and divulging "best practices” in public water and waste utilities management;
3) Study the influence of European Union law in the measures adopted in the Portuguese legal system;
4) Consider the recognition of a fundamental right to water and its implications on the protection of public water services users;
5) Analyze the management of public water and waste services within the framework of the relationship between the State and local authorities, in particular, to determine, in legal-constitutional order, the model of division of powers between those entities;
6) Evaluate the utilities in terms of public policies for territorial development and to combat inequalities between different regions;
7) Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the degree of spatial aggregation of the provision of water services and waste;
8) Consider the consequences of an increase in private sector participation in the management of these utilities;
9) Analyze the concession model established by Portuguese law;
10) Study the forms of administrative regulation of the sector and identify the conditions for genuine independence of the administrative entity exercising those functions;
11) Identify areas of intervention of the regulator, in particular on the legislative level;
12) Study the mechanisms / instruments of supervision of environmental obligations’ and quality standards’ compliance;
13) Assess the economic and financial sustainability of integrated infrastructures in public water services and waste;
14) Analyze the nature of fees charged to users of these services and consider the advantages and disadvantages of evolution to forms of tariff harmonization in national territory, including through the application of a tariff equalizer fund.
This project has a research and a training dimension, which, although formally independent, complement each other.
In terms of the research dimension, the objective is to publish, at least once a year, an academic work in the field of Water Law or Waste Law. Initially, the publications will gather the interventions of speakers at conferences or courses of postgraduate conducted on the subject. It is expected that, in a second phase, one can progress to the publication of works on more specialized matters relating to water and waste services management. These works will focus preferentially on interdisciplinary approaches to the subjects.
In order to ensure the public access to these works, the free access to all publications shall be ensured, inter alia through e-books.
Moreover, taking advantage of the existence of cooperative relationships with other entities (e.g. the Regulatory Authority and the Portuguese Water Partnership), it will be considered to undertake joint initiatives in research, as well as debates.
In terms of the training dimension, the annual organization of short postgraduate courses (about 30 sessions) on Water Law and Waste Law (alternately) is programmed (2013-2020). Furthermore, the organization of related courses is possible.
Water Law and Waste Law will also be subjects taught in postgraduate courses (LLMs) of the Law School. The students will take part in the activities of the project.
Further taking advantage of the partnerships with other public and private entities in the water and waste sector, efforts will be made to promote initiatives to integrate researchers / trainees in real work settings, as well as by establishing links with the market through initiatives targeting employability (work placements, consultancy, etc..).