Salinization: Do lawyers have a role?

NL Law

Salinization has become an issue of considerable importance for present and future generations alike. Salinization of land and water is increasing worldwide due to climate change alongside poor water and land management, and the effects are becoming more visible; threats to agriculture, the environment, and drinking water.

Experts claim we are only in the starting phase of the problem, as salinization is linked to several other problems, including soil subsidence, rising sea levels, and a shortage of fresh water. Although worldwide many researchers from other disciplines are researching this problem, and asking how this problem can be dealt with, soil  and water salinization has so far received minimal attention in legal scholarship. Moreover, many interdisciplinary projects have been and are being started while professionals from the legal discipline are rarely included – even though the role of the law in the context of salinization is undeniable. This blog is a first step in reviewing the role of law, which can be an instrument to prevent or mitigate the effects of salinization, but can also form an impediment to preventing or delaying the problem.

What is salinization?

The salinity process depends on various factors and can occur both via ground and surface water, resulting in internal and external salinity, respectively. It is an increasing problem, particularly for the agricultural sector in many countries. Also, in the Netherlands, the effects are becoming more visible. In our country, large areas of land are situated below sea level and include historical tidal zones. In these areas, salt water is present in the subsoil. During summer droughts, the fresh water present on top of this salt water is depleted, leading to capillary rise of salt water and damage of topsoil and crops. The effects were particularly visible in the coastal areas of the Netherlands during the very dry summer of 2018. The effects of soil salinization will only increase as climate predictions feature excessive precipitation during some parts of the year, and droughts and shortages of water during other parts of the year.

Potential measures

Just as there are various causes of salinization, there are also numerous potential actions to mitigate the effects or adapt to the effects. These include adaptations such as the modification of crops and the testing of existing crops for their salt tolerance, and prevention, for example ensuring sufficient amounts of fresh groundwater and the limitation of activities which could further negatively affect the soil. Several private and public actors are involved in and influenced by this issue, adding to its complexity. Future analysis should address those potential measures, as well as several legal questions which can be raised, including the following:

  • What are the options for the national and regional governments to limit the effects of salinization?
  • What are the legal possibilities and limitations in general?
  • Are the options offered by current legislation and regulations optimally utilized?
  • Are adjustments required to the current legislation and regulations?

In fact, the law can play an influential role when addressing the issue of salinization. There are several legal questions which legal professionals may take into account. These questions include whether the law could be used as an instrument to prevent or delay the further development of salinization by, for example, prohibiting actions with a negative effect and stimulating actions which have a positive effect. Moreover, the question should be considered to which extent the law could pose an impediment to prevent or mitigate the effects of salinization, which solutions have been proposed and implemented in other countries and if these can also be implemented in other countries, and which rights and obligations surround this worldwide problem.


This first blog aims at creating awareness. Future work will make it more concrete in which way and to what extent the law and legal professionals should be included in analyzing solutions to the problem, mitigating the effects of the problem, adapting to the problem, or compensating the effects of the problem.

This blog is an adjustment of an abstract (Annalies Outhuijse, Ida Helene Groninga, Tatia Brunings - A Legal Perspective on the Effects and Prevention of Salinization) which was presented at: