International water law and policy

International water law or the law of international water resources or the international river law is a branch of international law (IL) that governs water relations between states or between states and international organizations.

After adoption of the Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes (1992) and the Convention on the law of non-navigational uses of international watercourse (1997) the ‘law of international watercourses’ has become more often mentioned in academic literature. This means "the system of norms regulating inter-related public relations between states and other entities of international law in the use of international watercourses and international water catchments”. This definition underlies an expert opinion that “objects of international water relations are transboundary/international watercourses and international water catchments”.

There is no consensus among scientists on character of IL norms that govern issues related to transboundary water use and protection.

Currently, there are several views about the place of international water law (IWL) in the system of IL:

  1. A new IL institute has been formed in the international public law.
  2. IWL is a new branch of law that governs international water relations.
  3. New objects of international legal regulation have arisen in IL. Those are water resources and transboundary watercourses. Those objects are considered as specific objects under protection of international environmental law or as objects under IL.

Source (in Russian):
International water law
Kotova M.V. Subject of international water law and its place in the system of international public law

Selected bibliography

Monographs and brochures

Assessing the Economic and Political Impacts of Climate Change on International River Basins using Surface Wetness in the Zambezi and Mekong Basins / B.Blankespoor, A.Basist, A.Dinar, S.Dinar, H.Houba, N.Thomas (2014) 

A review of the evolution and state of transboundary freshwater treaties / M.Giordano, A.Drieschova, J.A.Duncan, Y.Sayama, L.De Stefano, A.T.Wolf (2013) 

Burchi S., Spreij M. - Institutions for international freshwater management (2003) 

International Cooperation and Conflict over Freshwater: Examples from the Western United States / N.T.Eidem, K.J.Fesler, A.T.Wolf (2012) 

Law for water management: a guide to concepts and effective approaches / J. Vapnek, B. Aylward, C. Popp, J. Bartram (Eds.) (2009) 

Mapping the resilience of international river basins to future climate change-induced water variability / L.De Stefano, J.Duncan, S.Dinar, K.Stahl, K.Strzepek, A.T. Wolf (2010) 

Mirumachi N., Chan K. - Anthropocentric Hydro Politics? Key Developments in the Analysis of International Transboundary Water Politics and some Suggestions for Moving Forward (2013) 

Waslekar S. - The Blue Peace - Rethinking Middle East Water (2011) 


Bakker M.H.N. - Transboundary river floods and institutional capacity (2009) 

Behr P. - Looming Water Crisis. Is The World Running Out Of Water? (2008) 

Bitsue K.K. - The Nile: from mistrust and sabre rattling to rapprochement (2012) 

Bigas, H. (Ed.) - The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue (2012) 

Bogdanovic S. - International Law of Water Resources: Contribution of the International Law Association (1954-2000) (2001) 

Cooley H., Ajami N., Ha M.-L., Srinivasan V., Morrison J., Donnelly K., Christian-Smith J. - Global Water Governance in the Twenty-First Century (2014) 

Dellapenna J.W. - The customary international law of transboundary fresh waters (2001) 

Do K.H.P., Dinar A., McKinney D. - Can issue linkage help mitigate externalities and enhance cooperation? (2011) 

Lecoutere E., D’Exelle B., Van Campenhout, B. - Who Engages in Water Scarcity Conflicts? A Field Experiment with Irrigators in Semi-arid Africa (2010) 

MacQuarrie P. - Water Security in the Middle East: Growing Conflict over Development in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin (2004) 

MacQuarrie P.R., Viriyasakultorn V., Wolf A.T. - Promoting Cooperation in the Mekong Region through Water Conflict Management, Regional Collaboration, and Capacity Building (2008) 

Mirumachia N., Chan K. - Anthropocentric Hydro Politics? Key Developments in the Analysis of International Trans-boundary Water Politics and some Suggestions for Moving Forward (2013) 

Magsig B.-O. - Overcoming State-Centrism in International Water Law: ‘Regional Common Concern’ as the Normative Foundation of Water Security (2011) 

Osikena J., Tickner D. (eds.) - Tackling the world water crisis: reshaping the future of foreign policy edited by (2010)  

Paisley R. - Adversaries into partners: international water law and the equitable sharing of downstream benefits (2002) 

Petersen-Perlman J.D., Veilleux J.C., Zentner M., Wolf A.T. - Case Studies on Water Security: Analysis of System Complexity and the Role of Institutions (2012) 

Rieu-Clarke A., Spray C . - Ecosystem services and international water law: towards a more effective determination and implementation of equity? (2013) 

Rieu-Clarke A., Moynihan A., Magsig, B.-O. - Transboundary water governance and climate change adaptation: International law, policy guidelines and best practice application (2015) 

Sadoff C.W., Grey D. - Beyond the river: the benefits of cooperation on International River (2002) 

Segal D. - Singapore’s Water Trade with Malaysia and Alternatives (2004) 

Siegfried T., Bernauer T. - Measuring International Policy Performance (2006) 

Wouters P., Tarlock D.A. - The third wave of normativity in global water law. The duty to cooperate in the peaceful management of the world's water resources: an emerging obligation erga omnes? (2013) 

Wouters P. - 'Dynamic cooperation’ in international law and the shadow of state sovereignty in the context of transboundary waters (2013) 

Wouters P. - 'Dynamic cooperation’ in international law and the shadow of state sovereignty in the context of transboundary waters (Part 2) (2013) 

Wouters P., Vinogradov S., Magsig B.-O. - Water Security, Hydro-solidarity, and International Law: A River Runs Through It … (2009) 

Yoffe S., Fiske G. - Use of GIS for analysis of indicators of conflict and cooperation over international freshwater resources (2002) 

Ziganshina D. - Promoting regional water cooperation in Central Asia through international law (2014) 


Boehlert B.B. - Irrigated Agriculture, Energy, and Endangered Species in the Upper Klamath Basin: Evaluating Trade-Offs and Interconnections (2006) 

Fesler K.J. - An Analysis of Water Resource Conflict and Cooperation in Oregon between 1990 and 2004 (2007) 

Giordano M.A. - International River Basin Management: Global Principles and Basin Practice (2002) 

Jarvis W.T. - Transboundary Groundwater: Geopolitical Consequences, Commons Sense, and the Law of the Hidden Sea (2006) 

Karner M.A. - Hydropolitics in the Jordan River basin. The conflict and cooperation potential of water in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (2012) 

Robertson K.C. - Design Considerations for an International Facility to Promote Cooperation Between States Sharing a Common Water Resource (2004) 

Yorth B. - International Mekong River Basin: Events, Conflicts or Cooperation, and Policy Implications (2014) 


Charting Our Water Future. Economic frameworks to inform decision-making (2009) 

The GIWA Final Report, Freshwater Shortage (2006) 

Resolutions of the UN General Assembly

A/RES/77/110 The rule of law at the national and international levels (2022)