University of Calgary

Spotlight on Sustainability: Arlene Kwasniak changes policies to protect land and water

UToday HomeApril 24, 2013

By Jennifer Allford

Law professor Arlene Kwasniak, seen here in the Colorado River basin,Law professor Arlene Kwasniak, seen here in the Colorado River basin, looks for legal tools to help protect our water and ensure it is distributed equitably and sustainably. Photo by Allen CarlsonArlene Kwasniak, professor and associate dean (research) in the Faculty of Law, has been pushing for new approaches to protect Alberta’s land and water for decades. Before coming to the University of Calgary in 2003, she spent 11 years with the Environmental Law Centre in Edmonton where, for a time, she was one of only a few voices speaking out for law and policy change to protect natural and heritage landscapes.

“I think I was among the first voices in the 1990s really pushing for economic instruments to help preserve desirable landscapes and for overall environmental sustainability. Now these are in legislation and I think people do generally understand them,” she says.

While there is still ”some resistance” in the slow process of changing the labyrinth of legal infrastructure that protects water, Kwasniak is encouraged by fewer “blanks stares” from her students when she starts talking about watershed management and law.

“People generally understand a lot of the basics about the environment that are necessary to appreciate the rule of law and policy,” she says. “And people know more about climate change, watershed management, the role of aquatic ecosystems and preservation of aquatic ecosystems in society.”

Kwasniak is adding to that knowledge by researching legal management approaches in three different river basins with water shortages and similar economic and agricultural demands -- the South Saskatchewan River basin, the Colarado River basin in the U.S. southwest, and the Murray Darling River basin in Australia.

“Each of them has a history of water rights systems that aren’t really congruent with water sustainability,” she says. “So I am looking at how they’re reacting over the long run and what kind of changes are they making to water policies and water right systems in order to accommodate water sustainability.”

Kwasniak is hopeful water trusts -- non-profits modeled on land trusts -- might play an important role in protecting water. She’s on the board of the first water trust in the country, the Water Conservation Trust of Canada, which works to acquire water entitlements from licence holders in order to maintain and restore Alberta’s rivers.

As the laws and policies that govern our water slowly catch up with our increasing concern over the vital resource, Kwasniak is committed to “keep looking for legal tools to help protect our water,” making sure it’s distributed equitably among the industries, individuals and ecoystems that depend on it.

Spotlight on Sustainability is an ongoing series profiling the work of students, faculty and staff. To submit story ideas please contact the Office of Sustainability.


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