New Book Explores the International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources

The following essay by Gabriel Eckstein provides an overview of his forthcoming book on The International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources. The book should be released on 20 September 2017.

Approximately 600 aquifers worldwide traverse international frontiers. Yet, only four of these have been the direct focus of a treaty regime. In sharp contrast, more than 3,600 treaties have been crafted for the 276 shared rivers and lakes of the world. As a result, the international law applicable to transboundary groundwater resources is far less developed and understood than its surface water counterpart. To a significant extent, international groundwater law has yet to emerge on the international stage.


TBA Map - colour


Nevertheless, increased regional scarcities and growing demand for freshwater resources have forced many governments to focus on all of their freshwater resources, including those found below the surface along their borders. In places like the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Central Asia, and the Mexico-United States border, nations have come to realize that transboundary aquifers serve as the primary or sole source of freshwater for their communities and natural environment.

As a result, various countries and international organizations are now beginning to explore legal options for the management of these subsurface water bodies.  Both the UN International Law Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Europe have issued proposed norms aimed at guiding transboundary aquifer riparians on how to develop such regimes (see UN Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, and UNECE Model Provisions on Transboundary Groundwaters). And agencies like the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization are developing case studies and evaluating management approaches with the goal of developing equitable cooperative regimes.

While the international law applicable to transboundary groundwater resources is still in its infancy, progress is evident and preliminary trends can be discerned.  This books documents these developments and offers a fairly comprehensive look at the evolutionary process that has led to the emergence of what may yet be termed international groundwater law.

IGWLBookCoverThe book opens with a general overview of the importance of groundwater resources to communities and humanity on a global scale. It then placed groundwater in a transboundary context and recognizes the governance challenges that arise among aquifer riparians. Taking a decisively interdisciplinary approach, Chapter 2 discusses groundwater resources in accessible scientific terms and lays the foundations for applying scientifically sound laws and policies to transboundary groundwater resources. It considers groundwater within the broader hydrologic cycle and describes and defines the various hydrogeological concepts and processes that must be considered by groundwater managers and regulators.  The book then discusses in Chapter 3 groundwater in a cross-border context and presents six conceptual aquifer models to illustrate various scenarios in which groundwater resources can have transboundary implications.  The models are all scientifically valid generic models, and are based on and represent the vast majority of circumstances found in nature under which an aquifer may have transboundary implications.

In Chapter 4, the book turns to the law and explores how groundwater has been treated in various domestic legal regimes and traditions, as well as in formal and informal arrangements between aquifer riparian states. This discussion lays the foundation for the growing attention paid to transboundary aquifers among governmental, inter-governmental, and non-governmental entities, and their interest in identifying globally acceptable legal norms and rules for managing groundwater resources that traverse international boundaries.  Chapter 5 follows with an analysis of groundwater resources and aquifers under the U.N. Watercourses Convention, while Chapter 6 focuses on groundwater and aquifers under the UN Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers.

Taking into account the preceding chapters, Chapter 7 discusses the emerging trends in the evolution of international law for transboundary aquifers. It begins by reviewing the few formal and informal arrangements in existence in which nations have addressed directly the management or use of a transboundary aquifer. It then extracts those principles and norms that are common to all or most of these instruments and evaluates them as a basis for the possible emergence of international law. The book concludes with Chapter 8 where it identifies gaps in the law in light of the unique characteristics (especially as compared to surface water bodies) of groundwater resources and their potential cross-border implications. This final chapter is intended as a basis for further discussion and consideration of the continued development of this nascent but critical area of international law.

For more information about this book, please see here.  To request a review copy, see here; Instructors can request an e-book exam copy here.


3 Responses to “New Book Explores the International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources”

  1. Alfonso says:

    Dear Gabriel,

    Congratulations on your new work!

    I look forward to reading it when is published.

    Keep on feeding us with your good work!

  2. Semsar Yazdi says:

    Dear sir
    The subject you have explored is very interesting and I will order the book. my sincere congratulations.
    Best Regards
    Semsar Yazdi from UNESCO-ICQHS based in Iran

  3. h2olwpadmin says:

    Thank you Dr. Yazdi! With kindest regards,
    Gabriel Eckstein