In Search of (hidden) Portuguese Urban Water Conflicts: The Lisbon water story (1856–2006)


The history of urban water services in Portugal can be explored through the permanent tension between central government and municipalities. The creation of the hydraulic services in the last quarter of the nineteenth century
set the scene for contemporary water public policies in Portugal: most waters are public, the state bears the responsibility for its administration, and its private use is regulated under two different regimes – license and  concession contracts. This policy framework was also valid for water supply, drainage and treatment systems in urban areas: municipalities assumed administrative and management responsibilities, and the central government
would provide financial and technical support through the hydraulic services and its regional branches. The former would decide whether to run the systems directly, to create administrative services or public companies, or even to grant concession contracts to private companies. The latter would supervise public works developed by municipalities and the development of water infrastructure. This model was applied in  all urban areas with the exception of the city of Lisbon where central government intervened directly and decided itself the concession conditions with a private company.