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The future of domestic water law: trends and developments revisited

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
4. Water policy and governance
Author(s): Stefano Burchi
Stefano Burchi
International Assocation for Water Law

Keyword(s): water law, water abstraction regulation, water pollution control, customary rights, land/water interface, environmental water allocation
Article: Oral:


Key trends in contemporary water resources legislation were analyzed in a prior essay by this author, published in 37/6 Water International (2012). They are: the steady attraction of water resources in the public domain of the state, and in the scope of governmental allocation authority; checking the government authority to allocate and re-allocate water resources, and improving the quality of decision-making, through a panoply of regulatory mechanisms; controlled trading of water rights; the rising profile of the environment as a competitor in the allocation and re-allocation of available water resources (also known as the "greening" of water laws);  charging for the use of water resources, and acknowledging the economic value of water through the "user pays" and the "polluter pays" principles; capturing the land-water connection at critical points of regulatory intersection; the participation of water users; and the interface between statutory and customary water rights. These trends will be revisited, and emerging new trends will be illustrated, through the analysis of a significant amount of legislation enacted by a wide variety of countries in the past 4/5 years. The old and new trends confirm that the water law agenda ahead will be informed and inspired by the never-ending quest for (a) security of water rights tenure in the face of isk and uncertainty; (b) efficiency of allocation of an ever scarcer resource, in the face of equity demands; and (c) environmental sustainability of resource allocations, in the face of the claims of development. The science-based policy debate plays a paramount role in shaping the legal systems' responses to these fundamental issues regarding the future of water resiources management. Narrowing the gap between water resources management regulation/administration and land use regulation/administration; facilitating the coexistence of customary and statutory water allocation systems and rights; and easing access to justice in relation to disputes over water, make up the balance of the foreseeable domestic water law agenda for the years to come.

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