Rights for La Bievre River in Paris

Reader Contribution by Darlene May Lee and Earth Law Center
article image

La Bievre in 1768 Source: Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Centuries of overuse and abuse from the businesses that depended on the Bièvre polluted it so badly that it became a health hazard for Parisians. By 1912, the Parisian half of the river was completely concealed. Today it is a sad part of Parisian sewage systems.

“Earth Law Center is proud to work with Valerie Cabanes, Notre Affaire à Tous (NAAT), and others leaders in France to daylight the Bievre River in the enforcement of its right to be free” said Grant Wilson, Directing Attorney of Earth Law Center. “We also hope that daylighting the Bievre will inspire other communities to restore their entombed rivers,” notes Wilson.

River restoration – the restoration of water flows and aquatic life to a largely ‘natural’ state – has been a topic of increasing interest over recent years, and organizations like the River Restoration Centre and the European Centre for River Restoration have formed to promote restoration work.

According to Adam Broadhead, who has created a daylighting website to map deculverting projects around the world,“Buried watercourses receive no sunlight, and so can be ecological deserts to life in the water and around the river banks (fish, birds, insects, plants, mammals). The darkness and other modifications to the channel often prevent passage of fish just like weirs do. Opening them back up can bring back all of this ecology when done properly.

More recently in the US, $19m was invested to daylight the Saw Mill river in downtown Yonkers, New York. The aim was to regenerate the area and bring back habitat for a range of species including muskrats and snapping turtles.

Through this initiative and others, Earth Law Center intends to lay the groundwork for a significant shift in how the law addresses questions of natural resources and environmental integrity. Changes that recognize the inherent rights of species and ecosystems will create more effective and durable mechanisms for protecting the natural world.

Beginning with one river and extending locally creates both community commitment to the environment and governmental protections that span jurisdictions and support a cleaner and healthier environment. Victories at the local level also build interest and a sense of momentum about our work – as time goes by and more local governments grant rights to local ecosystems, the idea gains in political credibility and a groundswell of support that can translate into motion at the state and ultimately federal levels.

Victories everywhere help build international norms and the political will for collective solutions to global problems. Personhood for rivers has already been recognized in New Zealand, India, 43 and Colombia, and nature’s inherent rights are recognized in the countries of Bolivia and Ecuador as well as Mexico City and over 30 municipalities in the US.

If La Bievre had full legal rights, then any unsustainable exploitation that would impair those rights could be challenged, with the river itself having standing in a court of law. When making such a claim, the river would be considered a legal entity, fighting for its own legal rights. In practice, humans would have to stand in a court of law to enforce such rights on behalf of the river, acting as legal guardians – a model that is already familiar to lawyers who represent children, disabled persons, and so forth. This model would, in turn, empower local communities, environmental groups, and others seeking to support the rights of rivers near them.

Take Action Today to Help Restore the World’s Rivers

Act today and join the growing global movement of Earth Law by:

Staying informed of Earth Law Center and also Notre Affaires a Tous

Volunteering with ELC or join a work group

Sign the petition here

Supporting ELC and Notre Affaire a Tous

Contact ELC if you want to work on your own river rights campaign

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature’s rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.