Water Rights Act 1959 (WRG 1959)

Drinking water
Photo: BML / Alexander Haiden

The Water Rights Act 1959 constitutes a comprehensive legal framework for the evaluation of the most different living conditions relevant from the point of view of water management.

Water is of extraordinary importance for humans and their social and economic development. Apart from the supply with drinking and process water the use of the motive power of the water, in particular for energy generation, has been playing an important role for a long time. Settlement activities and industrialisation can, on the one hand, cause water contamination, and, on the other hand, they require the protection against flood risks. At the same time it is important to preserve the resource water sustainably for future generations by measures aiming at keeping waters clean - in particular also in consideration of aquatic-ecological requirements.

The Austrian water law is thus a resource management law, which comprises also long-term plannings in the field of water management.

For this purpose the Water Rights Act 1959 (WRG 1959) includes the legal basis for a great number of measures, as well as for the legal instruments, which are required for their implementation, in particular for the following three fields of topics:

  • The utilisation of waters
  • The protection of waters and keeping waters clean
  • The protection against the hazards of waters

In the year 2018 the following amendments to the Water Rights Act WRG 1959 were adopted

Changes due to the Aarhus Participation Act 2018

With the Aarhus Participation Act 2018,Federal Law Gazette I No. 73/2018, environmental organisations have been granted, according to the Aarhus Convention, Federal Law Gazette II No 88/2005, taking into consideration the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, rights of participation and rights of appeal, among other things in connection with approval procedures in the field of water law.

After the judgement of the European Court of Justice of 20 December 2017 C 664/15, Protect Natur-, Arten- und Landschaftsschutz (Protect Nature, Species and Landscape Protection) certain projects, which can result in a deterioration for the purposes of Article 4 of the Water Framework Directive, can also result in considerable negative effects on the water status. In such cases, recognised environmental organisations shall be involved in the procedure for safeguarding the interests of the public in water protection.

Due to the amendments to the Water Rights Act 1959 brought about by the Aarhus Participation Act 2018, the environmental organisations have been assigned the status of a party in the procedure.

Furthermore environmental organisations are entitled to lodge a complaint with the administrative court in order to claim a potential violation of a notice of approval in the field of water law, in particular of the obligation to prevent a deterioration of waters.

Second Federal Repeal Act

With the Federal Law concerning the repeal of federal laws and ordinances announced before the 1 January 2000 (Second Federal Repeal Act - 2.  BRBG), BGBl. I No 61/2018, all (simple) federal laws and ordinances of the Federal Government, which were announced before the 1 January and are still in force as federal law, have been repealed by the end of 31 December 2018, if they are not mentioned in the Annex to this Federal Act. As it is explicitly mentioned in the Annex, the Water Rights Act 1959 still remains in force.

Amendments due to the EU Mercury Regulation

The basis of the collective amendment Federal Law Gazette I No 44/2018, by which, apart from the Chemicals Act 1996 and the Waste Management Act 2002 the Water Rights Act 1959 was amended as well, is Regulation (EU) 2017/852 on mercury, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1102/2008 (EU Mercury Regulation). Thus, as far as the Water Rights Act is concerned, the regulatory area of amalgam separators in dental medicine shall be covered.

On the one hand there was need for action regarding the Water Rights Act in terms of an adaptation of the implementing clause in Section 144, on the other hand, it has been clarified that the implementation and execution of the tasks concerning amalgam separation, transferred to the Member States in Article 10, para. 4 of the EU Mercury Ordinance, are ensured by the Water Rights Act. In Section 146 an equal linguistic treatment clause has been inserted.