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Water Rights and Stewardship

Donald McGillivray
Publication date: 
Thu, 25 Jul 2013
To what extent are water rights subject to restrictions based on ideas of stewardship? In England and Wales, the right to water has traditionally been conceived as a property right, favouring existing landholders and neglecting responsibilities towards stewardship, or protecting the water environment from ecological harm.
But there is much debate about the extent to which property ought to be subject to inherent stewardship obligations or whether there is already support for this, theoretically or in practice. The more that we can say that property rights are limited by stewardship duties, arguably the greater the scope for regulatory restrictions in the public interest.
This brief 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, the author calls into question the extent to which this reform to abstraction licensing law will recalibrate water rights from liberal to stewardship approaches.