Today’s blog post is brought to you all courtesy of the British Council – a non-political organisation working to build mutually beneficial and lasting relationships between the future leaders of the UK and over 100 countries worldwide.
Thanks to their generous funding arrangement through my home university (University of Melbourne Law School), I’m heading to the UK tomorrow, where I’ll be meeting with academics and policy makers in water resource management.
The prospect of future climate change and the increasing variability and frequency of extreme weather events is forcing water resource managers everywhere to embrace new methods of managing water that enhance flexibility and responsiveness to changing environmental conditions. Both Australia and the UK have experienced severe drought and flood over the past decade, and in both countries, this is inspiring change and reform in water resource management.
The UK and Australia have a combination of some common experiences, along with differences in water law and hydrology, which provides an excellent opportunity to examine how water reform can play out in different circumstances. Australia and the UK have a history of sharing information and working together on policy issues, including water management, and I hope to build on this relationship (for a recent example, check out Professor Mike Young’s report for University College London’s Environment Institute).
English water law was the basis for early Australian water law, as the riparian rights regime was imported to Australia during colonization. In both cases, the original common law water rights have been overlaid by more recent statutory water rights. Following the release of the Water White Paper in 2011, the UK is looking to improve its statutory regime, leading to more flexible, responsive, environmentally sustainable and tradeable water licenses, and in particular, how to stimulate a water market, for retail, industry and agricultural water users. There are many points of similarity between the reforms the UK is currently experiencing, and those pursued in Australia as part of the National Water Initiative, including a need for change to ensure water use remains sustainable in a climate change world.
One of the big questions for such reform is: where does the environment fit when water markets are created? I'm looking forward to providing an Australian perspective on how the environment can be protected and managed within a water market, and the trade-offs that come with this approach. In addition, I hope to learn from the UK water resource managers how the environment can be managed and protected in systems that are not yet fully-allocated, and where riparian rights (rather than a full extractive rights regime) still have a role in water resource management. In particular, the Water Framework Directive requires focus on both quantity and quality. In Australia, the emphasis for environmental water managers has been almost solely on quantity of water, so there is much to learn about effective and efficient management of water quality for the aquatic environment.
The UK’s leadership in regulating privatization of its corporate water managers is also an area I am keen to explore. In Australia, corporatization has been used as a means to improve efficiency of operations, without proceeding to full privatization of water resource managers (which is often prohibited under state constitutions). Successful implementation often depends heavily on the power and capacity of the regulators. Corporatization is an ongoing process in Australia, and it is a very recent phenomenon for environmental water managers to use the corporate form. I’m really looking forward to discussing this with water corporatization specialists in the UK, such as Dr Sarah Hendry at the University of Dundee.
So, tomorrow I’m off to the UK. I’m heading to the University of Dundee first, then Edinburgh, back to London, where I’ll be visiting DEFRA and the Centre for Water and Development at SOAS London, and then out to the University of East Anglia. To finish up, I’ll be speaking at the Water and Society conference in New Forest in the first week of September. I promise to keep up a much more regular posting schedule this trip, so there’ll be more to come soon!