Water Law

The focus of the research undertaken by the Water Law domain is governance and more particularly all legal aspects that govern or rule issues relating to water, whether surface or ground water; but excluding the seas and oceans.

Research goal

The goal of the research is to review, analyze and assess relevant legal rules and frameworks and where appropriate their implementation and to contribute to the progressive development of international and national law. The concepts of sustainable development, integrated water resources management, equitable and optimal use of water resources and human rights are among the starting points adopted for such assessments.

Transboundary nature

The rules considered are of an international or transboundary nature, i.e. involving two or more riparian countries, or of a national nature, namely governing the activities within the domestic arena of the countries being researched. Institutional arrangements, given their legal operating framework, are included in the research scope. The concept of law comprises not only statutory legislation but also self-regulatory instruments and customary norms. Consideration of all types of norms containing rights and obligations is crucial: legal pluralism often occurs where traditional and customary water management rules, and modern self-governing rules, are mixed with statutory regulations, which both complements and complicates effective, legitimate and equitable policy and law formulation and implementation especially if the norms are not aligned.

Linking law with water management

Water management rules are also considered within a wider legal landscape: they are linked to other types of law. These can be environmental and deal with global issues such as climate change, biodiversity, desertification and deforestation or other topics within environmental law. They can also relate to other types of law such as administrative law which sets out elements that impact on water management such as spatial planning, contract, investment and trade law which set the ground rules for private sector engagement in water management.

Moreover, implementation of water resources management rules happens in a context where many factors and considerations have a role to play. The law is one of a series of elements that drive and support management and are influenced by other actors. The interactions between these different factors are another area of focus of the domain and allows for interconnectedness and linkages with the other domains of the Chair Group.

Researching user rights

As the law underpins every aspect of water management, the approach chosen by the domain is to focus on particular areas of or issues in water management. These are determined according to projects the domain members are involved in or their preferred interests and may vary over time. The rules on water allocation and sharing may create tension between parties especially when the resources are not sufficient to satisfy all users and consumers of these resources. This is another area of research of this domain. The issues that are investigated are the rights of users, whether national or international, to determine entitlement and thus appreciate the causes of disputes. The means of dispute settlement, judicial and non-judicial, are also part of the research considerations.

Educational activities

Environmental and Water Law
Water Conflict Management (modules I and II)

Research activities

  • Groundwater governance and law
  • River basin organizations
  • Water rights and allocations
  • National water legislation reform
  • Developments in transboundary and international water law
  • Human rights and sanitation (PhD research)
  • Legal instruments for the management of aquatic ecosystems

Project activities

  • Reforming national water legislation in South Asia and Southeast Asia
  • Paper on multi-level water governance for a Special Issue of COSUST
  • Human right to water and sanitation distinguished, for RECEIL
  • Global Ground Water Governance – An Overview, for Water Policy?

Relevant staff publications

  • Schubert, S. and J. Gupta (in press). Can coordination mechanisms address global governance challenges, Ecology and Society.
  • Dellapenna,J., J. Gupta, L. Wenjing, and F. Schmidt (in press). Thinking about the future of Global Water Governance, Ecology and Society, in.
  • Gupta, J., N.van der Grijp and O. Kuik (eds.) (2013). Climate Change, Forests and REDD: Lessons for Institutional Design, Routledge.
  • Brink, M.van den, S. Meijerink, C. Termeer and J. Gupta (2013). Climate-proof planning for flood-prone areas: assessing the adaptive capacity of planning institutions in the Netherlands, Regional Environmental Change, DOI 10.1007/s10113-012-0401-7.
  • Bastos Lima, M. And Joyeeta Gupta (in press). The policy context of biofuels: A case of non-governance at the global level?, Global Environmental Politics.
  • Gupta, J., A. Akhmouch, W. Cosgrove, Z. Hurwitz, J. Maestu, and O. Unver (in press). Policymakers’ reflections on water governance issues. Ecology and Society.
  • Li, H., J. Gupta and M.P. van Dijk (2013). China’s Drought Strategies in Rural Areas Along the Lancang River, Water Policy, 15:1-18.
  • Siebel, M.A., V.S. Rotter, A.Nabende, and J. Gupta (2013). Clean development mechanism: a way to sustainable waste management in developing countries?, Osterr Wasser- und Abfallw, 65:42–46, DOI 10.1007/s00506-012-0052-4.


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