The Role of Property Rights in Protecting Water Quality (Revisited)

“Le rôle des droits de propriété pour la protection de la qualité de l’eau”
By Elizabeth Brubaker
Chapter in L’eau entre réglementation et marché
Edited by Max Falque
Published in 2014 by Editions Johanet
A project of the International Center for Research on Environmental Issues and Agence de l’Eau Rhône Méditerranée Corse



Property rights have a bad name with many environmentalists. Most prefer regulatory approaches to environmental problems. They place their faith in government, conveniently ignoring its role in destroying the environment. They mistrust property rights and the decentralized decision making that they permit. And they fear that property rights confer the right to pollute.

Environmentalists’ concerns largely reflect an ignorance of the law and of legal history. For centuries, property rights protections in the common law have empowered people to clean up – and to prevent – pollution. They have been particularly useful to those fighting water pollution.

This chapter – an updated version of a paper that first appeared in 1996 – describes the ways in which concerned citizens have used their common-law property rights to protect water quality. It chronicles the erosion of these rights by governments and courts. Finally, it recommends several approaches to restoring property rights.

Read the English translation of the full chapter here.

2 thoughts on “The Role of Property Rights in Protecting Water Quality (Revisited)

  1. If Berendsen v Ontario had been successful at the Supreme Court of Canada, water would have been protected across Canada. In the Heighington v Ontario case, polluted lands are now being cleaned up. After 1990, Banks refused to mortgage land until it was checked for contaminants. See Rokeby v Ontario as he took the Crown successfully to the Supreme Court of Canada over salt destruction of the orchard trees.

  2. Give land owners a reason to protect their properties and you’ll see them turn into the biggest advocates for environmental protection around.

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