Advances in Transboundary Groundwater Management: The Guarani Aquifer Agreement
Bryan A. Green
The Guarani Aquifer (“Aquifer”) in South America, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world, presents a classic example of a critically important international resource that necessarily requires a cooperative effort for its preservation and protection. Considering its vast potential as a water supply source for the region, as well as its transboundary character, the Aquifer is an ideal setting for the development of a legal framework that will allow for sustainable management of a transboundary groundwater system. When the four riparians of the Guarani Aquifer—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—commenced the Guarani Aquifer Project and embarked on the daunting task of developing such a framework, they did so with high hopes of ultimately reaching an agreement that would provide for the sustainable management of the aquifer. This goal was ambitious, to say the least, especially considering that the only international treaty in force directly addressing the management of transboundary groundwater was that governing the very localized Franco-Swiss Genevese Aquifer. As a result, the creation of a legal management framework for the Guarani Aquifer would have sweeping effects on the advancement of relatively undeveloped international groundwater law. Unfortunately, the Guarani Aquifer Project failed to deliver on this point before its conclusion in 2009.
Despite the Guarani Aquifer Project’s inability to establish a legal framework for the comprehensive management of the aquifer, the project ultimately spurred the August 2010 signing of the Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer (“Guarani Agreement”). This agreement, signed by the Guarani riparians, lays the foundation for the future formation of a joint legal management framework by instilling specific principles of international water law that will guide future negotiations on the aquifer’s management. The Guarani Agreement, which is still in the ratification process, may not be the final piece of the puzzle, but it certainly is a notable step in the right direction.