Policy briefs interrogate the changing nature of the right to water

26 July 2013

As the Water Bill 2013 begins its passage through Parliament, the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society has published a series of policy briefs emerging from a conference which explored the evolving regulatory framework governing water use to ask, is there still a right to water?
The conference brought together key stakeholders from Defra, the Environment Agency, and water companies, to debate the issues with academic experts. Their analysis of factors such as climate change and potential solutions such as water trading initiatives currently being trialled by the government and water companies is set out in a series of six policy briefs, published by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society.
Professor Karen Morrow of Swansea University assesses the nature and implications of the relationship between individual rights claims over the water resource and the public interest. Rights claims may, in future, be characterized by much more radical thinking, specifically in the emerging field of wild law or rights for nature, which may offer useful new approaches to developing a sustainable legal regime for freshwater governance.
Rights, Interests, and the Water Resource: Crossing the Rubicon?
Professor William (Bill) Howarth of Kent Law School reflects upon global objectives for water management and the way that these relate to national concerns about water in the United Kingdom. The brief identifies wide divergence between global calls for the integration of water management, encompassing integrated regulatory approaches, and the limited significance of this as a national legislative concern.
Integrated Water Resources Management and the Right to Water Security
Jon Stern of City University, London, assesses water trading in England and Wales, arguing that the ‘water shares’ approach to water pricing and trade can make a major contribution to commodifying the use of water while ensuring sufficient water for the environment.
Water Rights and Water Trading in England and Wales
Dr Mark Shepheard of McGill University, Australia and Dr Bettina Lange of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford, assess how the scope of farmers’ economic rights to access and use water are changing through increasing emphasis on stewardship responsibilities, and argue that  closer alignment of water use and water stewardship through the introduction of public interest considerations into the legal interpretation of water rights has the potential to enhance the public accountability of private right holders.
Is there still an Economic Right to Water?
Dr Sarah Hendry of the University of Dundee examines the recent reforms to Scottish Water Law and considers whether there has been a shift from private rights to public responsibilities over water resources in Scotland. She considers what lessons may be learned in England from the introduction in Scotland of limited competition in retail services in the business sector, also now part of the current reform package being developed in England. 
Private Rights and Public Responsibilities: Recent developments in Scots water law
Donald McGillivray looks critically at one particular law reform — section 27 of the Water Act 2003 — which enables abstraction rights to be revoked in order to protect the water environment from harm. Following analysis of the complex range of factors that impact on private water rights, he calls into question the extent to which this reform to abstraction licensing law will recalibrate water rights from liberal to stewardship approaches. 
Water Rights and Stewardship
All six policy briefs can be downloaded from the links on the right, and podcasts from the conference are available from the news page of our website.