Balancing Development and Environmental Conservation and Protection of the Water Resource Base – The “Greening” of Water Laws

Balancing the development and the environmental protection and conservation goals of society is at the heart of much contemporary water resources legislation. The environmental and conservation requirements of freshwater bodies, both surface and underground, increasingly tend to be treated in the water resources legislation on a par with the development exigencies of societies. The “greening” of water laws is borne out by the consistent recourse by the latest generation of water laws to distinct regulatory and other mechanisms. Minimum environmental flows of rivers, maximum groundwater withdrawal rates of aquifers, environmental water trades and water trusts, Environmental Impact Assessment requirements, the national “reserve” and protected areas and zones, and ecosystem service payment schemes, all point in the direction of the ever-increasing currency which environmental protection and conservation goals have been gaining with policymakers and with lawmakers in regard to the dwindling water resource base. The paper will explore and illustrate these mechanisms as they feature in the comparative legislation of selected countries. Pointers will be distilled for further research and action.