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Interbasin Water Transfers and Sustainable Water Use: A Relationship of Contradiction or Compatibility?

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It is widely recognized that one of the overriding problems of the twenty first century is that of the protection and sustainable management of water resources. Increasing water demand, which has resulted from the multiplication of human needs, has led to an increasing depletion of the scarce water resources and to ever increasing pollution. Climate change has also started to impact significantly the water availability and quality. The water crisis is much more intense in areas where the water demand exceeds significantly the available water supplies, for example regions, which are strongly dependant on irrigated agriculture. In such circumstances, interbasin water transfers (IBTs) become relevant, as they have been viewed for a long time as a solution to meeting increasing water demands in water-stressed regions.

The central question that arises is whether IBTs can be an effective and sustainable solution to the problem of increasing water demand in certain water stress areas under the new circumstances of the emerging water crisis. The scope of the paper is to make steps towards answering that question by taking into consideration the basic principles and regulatory directions set in the legislative frameworks for water protection and management at regional and national level (Part II). Furthermore, the designed and partially implemented diversion of the Acheloos River in Greece is chosen as a case study, with a view to demonstrating not only its interesting legal perspectives but also the emerged governance issues between the recipient and the donor region (Part III). Finally, certain conclusions are drawn concerning to whether and if yes, to which extent IBTs can be acceptable as an option to satisfy water demand in arid regions (Part IV).

Water law constitutes, undoubtedly, the cornerstone for achieving effective and sustainable water management. The economic, societal and environmental changes that have taken place in the last decades, have posed new challenges to the water law regimes, at both international, regional and national level. Climate–induced changes to water resources require, for example, that effective tools and mechanisms be in place, in order to cope with increased uncertainty and extreme weather events. All the above-mentioned factors have substantially influenced the “paradigm shift” concerning the adopted regulative concepts of both national water laws and transboundary water agreements. In particular, there is a gradual shift from water laws, which are primarily centered on the satisfaction of human water needs, to legislative regimes that have adopted a more integrated approach in managing and protecting freshwater and give emphasis to the introduction of integrated supply- and demand policies. Furthermore, the recognition of a human right to water has also gained importance as an emerging regulative concept. The above-mentioned regulatory trends and concepts, although important in terms of guiding the legislators concerning the basic directions to be adopted, are not precise or suitable enough to provide concrete normative criteria for evaluating IBTs from the perspective of sustainable water management. It is thus important to search for any specific rules or general principles relevant to the examination IBTs as an option.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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