Table of Contents

Water and the Law

Water and the Law

Towards Sustainability

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series

Edited by Michael Kidd, Loretta Feris, Tumai Murombo and Alejandro Iza

Water and the Law examines the critical relationship between law and the management of water resources in the context of ensuring environmental sustainability. It highlights the central importance of integrated water resources management and cooperation in achieving sustainability. The book considers two broad themes: how law can contribute to the sustainability of water itself and how the law’s regulation of water can contribute to the sustainability of life – both human life as well as that of other species in their natural environment.

Chapter 9: Achieving ecologically sustainable development in multi-level water governance regimes: the case of the Murray–Darling Basin

Ganesh Keremane, Jennifer McKay and Zhifang Wu

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, water, law - academic, environmental law, water law


The history of Australian water management laws has five distinct epochs over the period from 1788 to 2009. The early European colonies established in 1788 inherited the riparian doctrine, entrained in British common law, which gave landholders conditional rights to the access and rights to water contiguous with and adjoining their land. This law was replaced by a licensing and allocation system for both surface and groundwater in 1886. This was first achieved through the New South Wales Water Rights Act 1896 that vested in the Crown the right to water in rivers and lakes and water contained in any works to which the Act applied. However, the first comprehensive piece of water legislation was the Water Act 1912 (NSW)under which land owners retained some limited riparian rights for livestock watering and domestic purposes. For all other extractions of water a landholder was required to apply for a licence for a fixed term which could be renewed, amended or cancelled. In the second half of the 20th century a number of problems emerged with the way water was being managed in Australia, particularly two sets of issues: increasing relative scarcity of water resources and the efficiency and equity of their allocation, and increasing environmental impacts, degradation and the sustainability of water use. This required a fundamental paradigm shift in water resources management. In response, the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) has been placed in the water management laws of each State and recently in a new Federal Act – the Water Act 2007.

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