Groundwater resources are increasingly being put under pressure owing to population growth, technological progress and economic development. Many countries, however, are unable to address groundwater depletion and pollution owing to weak legal and institutional frameworks. This applies both within national contexts and in respect of international or trans-boundary aquifers (or aquifer systems). The issue is being widely debated within international fora, numbers of countries are revising their water legislation in order to include more specific provisions for groundwater, and in parallel the UN International Law Commission (ILC) is studying trans-boundary groundwater resources with a view to a codification of the law in this regard. However, the key characteristics of groundwater are often misunderstood by non-specialists and, unless resource lawyers and groundwater specialists work much more closely together, there is likelihood of erroneous interpretations of the applicable legal regime. This paper aims to highlight basic concepts and pragmatic management needs, so as to provide a framework within which national and international legislation on groundwater management and protection should be shaped.

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