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 11: Water law: adapting to climate change in south-eastern Australia?

Anita Foerster

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


In many parts of the world, water resource management is a critical component of climate change adaptation strategies. Potential climate change impacts on water resources are considerable, particularly in Australia, which is naturally a land of climatic extremes – prolonged droughts and flooding rains. In general, climate change modelling for south-eastern Australia suggests significant reductions in rainfall; temperature increases leading to increased evaporation rates; and a potential increase in the frequency and severity of extreme events such as drought, flood and bushfire in native forests in key water catchments, all with potentially adverse impacts on water availability and quality. Climate change raises very difficult adaptation challenges for natural resource management regimes, such as those regulating water allocation and use. Essentially, these are regimes of trade-off. Through them, we seek to balance the competing demands of basic human water supply, resources for industry and the maintenance of environmental values. It is clear that increased scarcity, variability and extreme events under climate change will significantly sharpen these trade-offs. Climate change is likely to have devastating direct impacts on many species and ecosystems, while simultaneously increasing pressure on natural resources for human use. As the discussion in this chapter illustrates, the intersection of biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource use objectives in natural resource management regimes make for complex and contested adaptation challenges. Since 1994, Australian water law and governance systems have been extensively reformed.

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