Increasing populations and industrial and agricultural development worldwide are placing much greater demands on groundwater supplies. Many of these groundwater basins or aquifers underlie two or more countries and are, thus, international or transboundary. Withdrawals from one country can drain life-giving water from a neighboring country and, as a consequence, be the source of severe and protracted conflict. Unfortunately, international law and treaty practice are only at a beginning stage. With the goal of advancing international law and institutions on the matter, a multi-disciplinary group of specialists over an eight-year period have developed a draft international groundwater treaty.
The draft provides mechanisms for the international aquifers in critical areas to be managed by mutual agreement rather than continuing to be subjected to unilateral taking. The treaty addresses contamination, depletion, drought and transboundary transfers as well as withdrawal and recharge issues. The fundamental goal is to achieve joint, optimum utilization and avoidance or resolution of disputes over shared groundwaters in a time of ever-increasing pressures upon this priceless resource.
The "black letter" provisions delegate only a limited amount of substantive dicretion to the joint agency, but above all they instruct the Commission to take the initiative, subject to the Governments' approval, in preparing for an confronting the full range of problems involving the Parties' transboundary groundwaters.
Natural Resources Journal
Robert D. Hayton & Albert E. Utton, Transboundary Groundwaters: The Bellagio Draft Treaty, 29 Nat. Resources J. 663 (1989).