Repairing Our Relationship With Rivers: Water Law and Legal Personhood

Forthcoming, Research Agenda for Water Law. Eds R Larson and V Casado Perez. 2023. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

17 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2022

See all articles by Erin O'Donnell

Erin O'Donnell

University of Melbourne Law School

Date Written: December 13, 2022

Abstract

Since 2017, rivers around the world have experienced a profound transformation in law: they have become legal persons, legal subjects, living persons, and/or living entities. This alchemical transfiguration from legal object to legal subject renders the river uniquely visible, and legible, to the law in ways it has not been before, and often brings with it new legal rights and powers. This chapter asks what this transformation means for water law, and what the implications are for established water law frameworks. To date, the impact on water law has been relatively minor: new river persons have never yet received any legal rights to the water flowing between their banks. But their existence challenges the foundational assumption of Western water law: that water is merely a resource, capable of exploitation for human consumption. These new river entities demonstrate the power of law as a mode of repair, and create an opportunity to repair and restore our relationship with rivers. This opportunity is particularly important in settler colonial jurisdictions, and the mode of repair frequently emerges as a result of the leadership and advocacy of Indigenous peoples. So far, water law has maintained its distance from this emerging transnational concept, but this position is becoming increasingly untenable. When a river is a living entity, or a legal person, the question for all water scholars and practitioners becomes: what does it mean to be in good relations with the river?

Keywords: legal person, living entity, river, water law, settler colonial, dominance, repair

Suggested Citation

O'Donnell, Erin, Repairing Our Relationship With Rivers: Water Law and Legal Personhood (December 13, 2022). Forthcoming, Research Agenda for Water Law. Eds R Larson and V Casado Perez. 2023. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4300731

Erin O'Donnell (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne Law School ( email )

Parkville, 3010
Australia

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