Deborah Curran

Deborah Curran
Associate Professor, Executive Director, Environmental Law Centre
Faculty of Law

On leave


BA Honours – Trent (1991), LLB – UVic (1995), LLM – University of California, at Berkeley (2002)

Area of expertise

Environmental law, water law, municipal law, growth management and land use law, agricultural land and food systems, real estate and shared-decision making


Both in research and practice I am engaged in the subjects of water and regional or watershed sustainability. Flowing through all of my research is an interest in how legal and policy structures (1) facilitate or impede us from adapting to changing ecological conditions, and (2) shape decision-making through governance processes. It is adaptive governance that assists us to respond to socioecological conditions, and law – indigenous, customary community, municipal, provincial and federal - plays a foundational role in how well any watershed community responds over time or to specific events.

I am privileged to be associated with both the Faculty of Law and School of Environmental Studies (Faculty of Social Sciences) at the University of Victoria. I teach in the areas of land and water regulation and law, including water law, municipal law, and the Environmental Law Clinic – Intensive course. I also facilitated a unique field course in environmental law in the Central Coast at the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island from 2011-2015, and am committed to field course-based learning. As the Executive Director with the Environmental Law Centre at UVic, I supervise students working on environmental law projects for community organization and First Nation clients (see My work as a municipal and environmental lawyer influences my teaching and I typically expect students to complete course work – legal memos or research papers – on topics that are currently relevant for municipal, First Nation or community organization staff. All of my courses explore how colonial law interacts with or has an impact on indigenous laws and communities.

Research Program Summary

My areas of research focus on water laws, regional sustainability, and the pedagogy of field courses and clinical learning.

Water Laws

My focus over the past three years has been to evaluate how the new Water Sustainability Act in B.C. responds to weaknesses in the water management regime and the call for adaptive law, and to compare the Act to other jurisdictions undertaking water law reform.

With my colleague Val Napoleon, the Indigenous Law Research Unit, the Water Sustainability Project (Polis Project UVic), and other partners I am working on a three year project (2015-2018) on colonial and indigenous water law in B.C. We have partnered with the Cowichan Tribes, Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Tsilhqot’in Nation to build up their respective indigenous water laws. In the same watersheds, we are working with water purveyors and the agricultural community to examine how water license holders steward water and how colonial water law affects their behaviour. The intent is to generate information to assist these watershed communities in their integrated water planning activities, and to provide input for the implementation of the new Water Sustainability Act.

We have funding to work with incoming PhD, LLM and MA students in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 graduate intake cycles. Please email me if you are interested in these opportunities.

Regional Sustainability

In the realm of regional sustainability, I focus on smart growth approaches, which include urban densification, preservation of working landscapes, growth management and food systems. I am currently writing on green real estate and what makes these projects last from a legal perspective, municipal uptake of green real estate practices, protection of agricultural land and green bylaws. In the past, I have also evaluated legal approaches to affordable housing.

Pedagogy of Field Courses and Clinical Education

I have taught an Environmental Law Clinic course for ten years and an interdisciplinary field course with law and environmental studies students for five years. Both of these courses are still somewhat unique in Canada in terms of learning outcomes and pedagogy, which is of interest in law schools and environmental studies programs. In 2016-2017 I am undertaking an evaluation of the field course and attainment of student learning outcomes, and have also completed a book chapter on field courses in law.