Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Water Down Under: A Report from Australia by Barb Cosens: Post 2: Comparative Water Law: Australia and the western United States or Conversations with Claire

[The Water Down Under series of posts is by my colleague, Barbara Cosens, who is in Australia this semester working on water law issues there.  See more about this series, and Barb's first post, here.]

Barb's second post:

University of Idaho 3L student Claire Freund is doing an internship this semester with the Environmental Defender's Office of New South Wales (EDO NSW) in Sydney Australia.  To allow her to complete the requirements for the Natural Resources and Environmental Law emphasis, we are doing a directed study via Skype on comparison between Australian and western U.S. water law.  Three of my upcoming blogs will reflect our dialogue on areas of water law that may play a major role in the readiness of our respective water basins to adapt to the intersection of climate change and population growth.  For those of you wondering whether to follow this dialogue, here is a brief introduction to the three areas they will cover and why they may play such a large role in adaptation.  The first of these areas is the nature of the right to use water.  Clearly defined rights are essential to keeping conflict in the face of scarcity in check and to facilitating transferability.  At the same time, the certainty provided by clear definition of rights must be balanced against the ability of government to manage an essential and increasingly variable common pool resource.  The second area of comparison is the management and conjunctive management of groundwater.  Like the U.S. the advancement of technology for drilling and producing large water wells in the mid-twentieth century allowed farmers to supplement variable surface water supplies.  Yet, in both countries the development outpaced the understanding of the behavior of aquifers and the adjustment of water law accordingly.  As a result, over pumping of aquifers for agriculture in response to drought has caught water managers in both countries by surprise.  Similar to our own Palouse Basin in Idaho, Australia has aquifers with very limited recharge and has not yet developed the policy and legal framework to manage aquifer mining at a level that does not have irreversible consequences.  Finally, the colonial and frontier history of both countries had devastating impacts on indigenous populations.  Meeting the needs of formerly marginalized and therefore vulnerable populations is critical to the adaptability and resilience of water dependent communities.  Furthermore, increased diversity in the voices and values playing a role in water management may be a factor in enhancing our collective ability to respond to change.  Thus, the definition of indigenous rights to water and the role of indigenous communities at the water management table must be understood to assess adaptability.  I will explore how the western U.S. and Australia are handling these issues in three blogs which I will refer to as Conversations with Claire.  I will continue to intersperse other reflections on Water Down Under with the Conversations posts.  Until next time – G-day.

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