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The U.n. Watercourse Convention And Technological Governance

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Rhett Larson (Tempe, USA)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 15: Water law,
AbstractIntroduction: The United Nations Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (the "Watercourse Convention") makes no reference of technology and its impact on how transboundary waters are shared between co-riparian states. Yet technological innovation has the potential to aggravate or mitigate conflict over international watercourses. Improved drilling techniques have made previously inaccessible deep fossil aquifer available for exploitation. Cloud-seeding will become an increasingly viable water supply augmentation strategy. Desalination has developed into a cost-effective means of accessing new sources of fresh water remediating salinity contamination. These technologies have the potential to change how nations manage shared water resources, particularly where one riparian state has the resources to avail itself of new technologies which allow it to increase or improve its water supply, while externalizing costs to co-riparian states lacking those same resources. In that case, do the principles of the Watercourse Convention require a redistribution of benefits from a shared watercourse? If so, what are the implications of such a requirement for encouraging responsible implementation of beneficial new or developing technologies? Methods/Materials: I rely on case studies, regional water allocation treaties in international river basins, and comparative domestic legal approaches to water apportionment (including the prior appropriation legal distinction between developed and salvaged water) to evaluate how international water rights law can effectively govern technological innovation in the field of water supply augmentation. Results and Discussion: Using examples of deep fossil aquifer drilling in the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, cloud-seeding in Mali and Niger, and desalination in the Jordan and Colorado River Basins, I propose interpretive approaches to the Watercourse Convention that would encourage innovation and responsible implementation of water supply augmentation and equitable apportionment of augmented supplies between co-riparian nations. Conclusion: I argue for incorporation of the distinction between developed and salvaged water in interpreting the Watercourse Convention. I also propose three elements adjudicative bodies should consider in applying the principles of the Watercourse Convention to disputes over international watercourses involving technological innovation: (1) the relevancy of technology to the dispute over water resources; (2) the reasonableness of the use of the technology; and (3) balancing the interest between encouraging innovation and efficiency against protecting established water rights. Finally, I argue that such interpretation would encourage innovation through (1) adaptive management, (2) collaborative governance at the appropriate level; and (3) legitimacy through shared benefits. 1. Abderrahman,W., Energy and Water in Arid Developing Countries: Saudi Arabia, A Case-Study, 17 INT. J. OF WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT 247 (2010). 2. Burleson, E., Middle Eastern and North African Hydropolitics: From Eddies of Indecision to Emerging International Law, 18 GEO. INT’L ENVTL. L. REV. 385 (2006). 3. 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