Rivers as living entities: Challenges and opportunities for water law

Water law in settler-colonial countries continues to treat water as a resource to be exploited and a commodity to be traded. Yet rivers and being recognized as legal persons and living entities around the world, challenging our assumptions about what water is. By exploring examples from Australia, South Asia, South America and Aotearoa New Zealand, I will show the opportunities that the transnational movement to recognize rivers as rights holders to transform water law. But so far, there has been very limited integration of the laws that recognize rivers as legal entities and water law. With rare exceptions, rivers with legal personality do not hold rights to water or have a significant role in catchment management. In order for river rights' to have force and effect, water law needs to bridge this gap. In doing so, we can begin to shift towards a more relational approach to rivers, and genuinely sustainable out comes