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Water law and natural resources management are fundamental to human society, environmental protection and many aspects of economic productivity. Legal rules around water co-evolved with the development of many societies. Water is both necessary for life but also a source of conflict. This subject considers the international laws governing water, including principles addressing trans-jurisdictional water governance for major river systems. It canvasses emerging questions, such as whether there is a human right to water, and climate change impacts on water availability. It examines the development of common law rules around water allocation and water quality that retain an important role in water management. There is a major focus on indigenous water rights.
The general development of statutory-based water law, concentrating on the Australian federal and Victorian situation, provides the main case study of water law and governance. The subject examines the water law reforms leading to adoption of the national Water Act 2007, and covers the federal legislation, such as the development of environmental water regulation and water trading. It provides an examination of the Victorian water legislation, which explores catchment and natural resources management issues. The subject has a focus on groundwater and looks at impacts on groundwater due to mining and fracking. This subject covers urban water laws, with a focus on novel uses, such as water recycling and storm water capture.
Principal topics include:
- International law and policy governing water, including examination of relevant treaties and conventions
- Water rights: including human rights and cultural rights – especially those of Indigenous peoples
- An overview of the current system of Australian statutory regimes for surface water and groundwater allocation and use
- Australian national water and resource management reforms, including the National Water Initiative
- The Water Act 2007 (Cth), including water trading and water planning
- Environmental water regulation
- Victorian water laws, including water authorities and governance models
- Water quality: addressing point source and diffuse water pollution
- Integrated catchment and natural resource management, including relevant catchment management legislation
- Urban water laws, including alternative water uses such as stormwater, and innovative recycling models such as water-sensitive urban design.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have an advanced understanding of the diverse legal models for regulating water at an international, national and regional level; including trans-boundary water laws
- Have an advanced understanding of the ‘rights’ dimensions of water access and discrimination, in an international, national and human rights context
- Have an integrated understanding of the problems confronting management of water resources in the face of numerous and often conflicting pressures together with the legal rules and principles that have developed to implement water allocation and water quality controls historically and in contemporary contexts
- Be able to critically examine, analyse, interpret and assess the effectiveness of these legal rules together with the recent policy and law reform measures that have seen widespread changes to water law and practice within Australia
- Be able to critically evaluate the main aspects of the Council of Australian Government’s water reform process and the National Water Initiative; including water trading; environmental water and community engagement aspects
- Be able to critically evaluate how Australia’s federal structure has impacted water law reform in the Murray Darling Basin and to assess current developments in the field; including the drivers for change in Victorian water law and policy
- Have an advanced understanding of the key components of Victorian water laws and the regulatory trends that have driven experimentation with, and adoption of a wide range of tools and mechanisms for water governance
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical, but creative approaches to water resource planning and management; including examination of regimes for catchment management
- Be able demonstrate autonomy, and expert judgment in examining legal and policy matters in the field of water law and natural resource management and have the capacity to apply these in relevant areas of practice
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research and analyse legal issues relating to water law and natural resource management in a variety of contemporary regulatory contexts and to develop a sustained argument in relation to these issues
- Have the highly developed oral and written communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information regarding a water law case study that is accessible to professional and non-specialist audiences and to explain its relevance to subject themes.
Last updated: 29 October 2019