102: Rights for Rivers with Erin O’Donnell

In this episode, Michael speaks with Erin O’Donnell, Early Career Academic Fellow at Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne.

Erin is a water law and policy specialist focusing on water markets and governance. She has worked in water resource management since 2002, in both the private and public sectors. Erin is recognized internationally for her research into the groundbreaking new field of legal rights for rivers, and the challenges and opportunities these new rights create for protecting the multiple social, cultural and natural values of rivers.

Erin’s latest book, Legal Rights for Rivers: Competition, Collaboration, and Water Governance, is available now from Routledge. In this book, Erin considers two case studies of legal rights for rivers, one in Southeastern Australia and one in the Western United States. In each case, the rights of rivers are promoted through what Erin calls environmental water managers who purchase water rights, and Erin argues that what might seem like a movement towards a more intrinsic value of nature in fact can lead to a backlash against the newfound power of nature as a legal entity, and can relegate nature to being “just another water user” that is competing with everyone else in water markets. Erin ultimately argues for what we call a paradigm shift, in which we come to see nature as living entity with value in its own right, at which point we wouldn’t need to worry as much about making it legible to the law as a legal person.

Erin’s website: https://law.unimelb.edu.au/about/staff/erin-odonnell


O’Donnell, Erin. 2018. Legal Rights for Rivers: Competition, Collaboration and Water Governance. Taylor and Francis.