Rethinking Water Law and Governance: Successes, Challenges and Future Directions

Posted 2 August 2016

Outcomes of the recent meeting of water law specialists hosted by the UNSW Faculty of Law and the Connected Waters Research Initiative Research Centre (CWI) have been brought together in a special issue of Environmental Planning and Law Journal (EPLJ).

Australia has been a world leader in water law and governance reform. However, after 20 years of progress, water is quickly slipping from the national agenda.

Despite the risk of future droughts, there has been little detailed intergovernmental direction about the “next steps” in Australia’s water strategy.

In response to this policy inertia, a group of water law specialists came together at UNSW in December 2015. The purpose was to consider key successes and limits of Australia’s hybrid water governance system (known as the National Water Initiative), and, crucially, to explore how best to steer water governance towards a more sustainable future path.

At the conclusion of the workshop, a broad consensus emerged that although Australia has come a long way in water management under the National Water Initiative, the design and implementation of this national reform does not appear sufficient to meet future water challenges. Further reforms and changes will be required.

In a Special Issue of the Environmental and Planning Law Journal published this week, eight selected articles from the UNSW workshop are brought together to contribute new lines of vision to Australian water governance as we move forward into the 21st century.

The articles critically evaluate and identify law and governance reforms across key policy parameters, including: water markets (e.g. property and regulating cap and trade instruments); participation (e.g. new litigation pathways and collaborative environmental water transactions); groundwater and policy mixes (e.g. enhancing adaptive capacity and managing cumulative impacts); and developing northern Australia (e.g. water infrastructure, strategic planning and engagement of Indigenous peoples).

A table of contents and abstracts of the articles can be found here.

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