Erin O’Donnell

Erin O’Donnell

Erin O’Donnell, Australia.

Erin is an environmental water law and policy specialist. She has worked in environmental planning and management and water governance since 2002, in both the private and public sectors. Erin’s research explores the role of the new legal institutions and organizations in delivering efficient, effective and legitimate environmental water management. Erin’s research focus is the challenge of providing sufficient water for the environment within the context of transferable water rights and water markets, and is informed by comparative analysis across many jurisdictions, including Australia, the USA and Chile. Erin’s work examines how environmental water organizations use a corporate form to construct the aquatic environment as a legal person, with responsibility to hold and manage water rights on behalf of the environment. Her research findings are broadly applicable to corporate governance for environmental outcomes, and the use of markets as a form of regulation in other environmental and resource management areas.

Presentation Title: Environmental Water Managers: What Happens When the Environment has Legal Rights?

In 2007, the Brisbane Declaration on environmental flows emphasised the importance of environmental flow policies for healthy ecosystems, societies and economies, and framed the next challenge as one of implementation. Almost ten years later, many jurisdictions now have high level policies or legislation supporting the protection environmental flows, and different governments have developed a diverse range of mechanisms to implement environmental flows policies. This diversity reflects the challenge of designing an appropriate and effective governance framework for managing water resources in a wide variety of hydrological, ecological and social contexts. However, the increasing maturity of environmental flows management as a field of practice means it is now possible to go beyond the specifics of individual examples to distill implementation lessons that can be applied more broadly. This paper presents a new framework for implementing environmental flows policies that brings together the policy intent, the legal mechanisms for allocating water to the environment, and the ongoing activities required to maintain and manage environmental water. In this paper, the new framework is applied to case studies of environmental flows implementation in South Africa, Ghana, Australia, the USA, Mexico, and Chile. By providing a common language, this new framework enables the lessons of environmental flows programs around the world to be applied in new contexts, and provides a guide to implementation of environmental flows in countries both with and without established environmental flows programs.

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