Professors Reed Benson and Denise Fort joined colleagues from six continents to participate in an early January 2011 water law colloquium titled, "Water Law: Through the Lens of Conflict," at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.
Benson's presentation was titled, "Public on Paper: The Failure of Law to Protect Public Water Uses in the Western U.S." and Fort spoke on "Too Hot to Handle: Climate Change and Agricultural Water Use."
"This is a very exciting opportunity because Australia is ahead of us in attempting to provide more protection to their river ecosystems," said Fort. "As a result, they are making decisions about how to approach agricultural policy, in particular, and that is what I addressed."
The invitation-only colloquium was organized by the UNE School of Law's Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law with a desire to bring new social perspectives to a debate that has been dominated by scientific and economic considerations.
"The more socially oriented role of law in water conflict has rarely been considered," said Amanda Kennedy, deputy director of the center. "The importance of the human dimension, and the need for laws that can more effectively address that dimension, are highlighted by the continuing disputes over the Murray Darling Basin Plan. This meeting will provide new insights into how such conflicts could be addressed."
"So many nations are struggling with some of the same water issues that we are facing in the western U.S.," said Benson. "It has been fascinating to exchange information and ideas with water law scholars from all over the world."
Additional speakers discussed water law and its social implications in relation to subjects such as the environment, trans-boundary water flows, property rights, international waters and energy and mining.
"The aspiration of the colloquium is to propose new directions for water law to address ways to advance economic growth, fair resolution of conflict and social justice," wrote the organizers on the colloquium's website. Presentations will feed into the first issue of the new International Journal of Rural Law and Policy, to be published mid-year by UNE's School of Law.
January 6, 2011