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Basin Futures

Basin Futures: Water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin

Daniel Connell
R. Quentin Grafton
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Basin Futures
    Book Description:

    This unique book brings together 27 chapters from some of the world's leading practitioners and experts on environmental water, communities, law, economics and governance. Its goal is to understand the many dimensions of water in the Murray- Darling Basin and provide guidance about how to implement a water management plan that addresses the needs of communities, the economy and the environment. The comprehensiveness of topics covered, the expertise of its authors, and the absolute need to take a multidisciplinary approach to resolving the “wicked problem” of governing our scarce water resource makes this volume a must read for all who care about Australian communities and the environment.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-25-0
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. List of figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of tables and boxes
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Basin Futures: An introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Daniel Connell and R. Quentin Grafton

    This book represents a remarkable collection of evidence, opinions, proposals and remedies for the troubles that ail the Murray–Darling Basin. It grew out of a workshop and conference held on 14 and 15 October at The Australian National University shortly after the release of the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) on 8 October 2010. At the time there was a wave of protest about what was proposed, and what might happen should water reform continue its course. This protest may have lost its radiance somewhat in 2011 but there is still...

  6. Part I. Water and the Basin

    • 1. Understanding the Basin and its Dynamics
      (pp. 1-38)
      John Williams

      The competing tensions between water extraction for immediate human use and water essential to the long-term ecological function and sustainability of the rivers and groundwater systems in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) sit at the centre of public policy debate on water reform. Yet it is much more than this. The people of the Basin are faced with the enormous challenge of transforming themselves into more resilient communities. This requires managing and reconstructing the conflict between the climatic and biophysical realities of the Basin and the earlier private and public policy aspirations of the European settlers that have dominated for...

    • 2. Freshwater Ecosystem Conservation: Principles versus policy
      (pp. 39-58)
      Jamie Pittock and C. Max Finlayson

      The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity provide much of the constitutional mandate for the Australian Water Act 2007 and proposed Murray–Darling Basin Plan, due to be adopted in 2011. The Plan is meant to give effect to these international agreements by reducing excessive water diversions to environmentally sustainable levels, using environmental flows to conserve key ecological assets such as wetlands, manage emerging risks to water supplies and then optimise socioeconomic benefits. The policies proposed in the October 2010 Guide to the proposed Basin Plan fail, however, the fundamental test in the Ramsar Convention—namely,...

    • 3. Environmental Water: The Benefits of Ecological Goods and Services
      (pp. 59-80)
      Richard H. Norris

      Water has been viewed primarily as an exploitable commodity for human consumption, either directly or for growing food and fibre. As such, the wider range of benefits that might be derived from the ecological goods and services that are also dependent on water has not been recognised. Stocks of natural capital and flows of ecosystem goods and services are rapidly shrinking, caused by unprecedented rates of land-use change, water scarcity, and changing climate. Thus, there is a need for quantified trade-offs between social, ecological and economic objectives across a landscape that informs initiatives in three areas. First, to increase the...

    • 4. Climate Change and its Impacts: Current understanding, future directions
      (pp. 81-98)
      Nick Schofield

      Global climate change is well documented through warming of the atmosphere and oceans, sea-level rise and changes in the cryosphere (the portions of the Earth′s surface where water is in solid form) over the past few decades. Climate change is also occurring across the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), as is evidenced by increasing temperatures. There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the past half-century. Global warming is, in turn, causing changes to the whole climate system—the highly complex interaction...

  7. Part II. Communities

    • 5. Basin Bookends, the Community Perspective
      (pp. 101-114)
      Leith Boully and Karlene Maywald

      There is a collective understanding across the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) that water has been over-allocated, and, generally speaking, most people know in their hearts and minds that this must be addressed. Responding to calls from people across the nation (including in the MDB), the Australian Parliament passed the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth) with the support of the opposition and minor parties. With this level of consensus, it is reasonable to expect that implementation of the provisions of the Act would be well received. The Act has fundamentally redefined the water-policy priorities for the Murray–Darling Basin. It requires the...

    • 6. The Media and the Guide to the Basin Plan
      (pp. 115-134)
      Åsa Wahlquist

      The current over-allocated state of the Murray–Darling Basin, and the consequent run-down in its environmental health, is due to more than a century of parochial decisions—decisions typically taken with no regard for downstream users, the Basin as a whole, or the health of the environment. The Water Act 2007 aims to redress the balance, to restore the environment and to bring about a huge cultural change in managing the waters of the Basin. The Act received bipartisan political support when it was passed by the Federal Government.

      Under the Act, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) must prepare...

    • 7. Rethinking Community in the Face of Natural Resources Management Challenges
      (pp. 135-148)
      Martin Mulligan

      As with natural disasters in the past, the devastating floods that inundated local communities in southern Queensland, northern New South Wales and Victoria in December 2010 and January 2011 brought out some inspirational examples of communities standing together to face an unexpected crisis. Something similar happened in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, yet the dispersal of the survivors and the passage of time made it hard to sustain the heightened ′sense of community′ over the following years. Community, we like to think, is there when we need it most, yet at a time in human history...

    • 8. Why justice is important
      (pp. 149-162)
      Catherine Gross

      Rural communities in the Murray–Darling Basin reacted with outrage, anger and protests after the release of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) Guide to the proposed Basin Plan on 8 October 2010. Regional and national newspapers gave the controversy full coverage. They reported standing room only at a series of regional community information sessions organised by the MDBA. These meetings were characterised by large gatherings of people from rural communities at which symbolic gestures—such as burning copies of the Guide in the streets—were clear demonstrations of frustration and anger (Jopson and Arup 2010). The mood was succinctly...

    • 9. Indigenous Water Management: Priorities for the next five years
      (pp. 163-178)
      Sue Jackson

      Indigenous systems of resource management coexist alongside and interact with the relatively recently introduced and rapidly transforming institutional systems of State land and water management. These latter systems encompass a mix of regulatory and market-based allocation mechanisms, incorporate scientific methods of resource assessment and management, and increasingly aspire to achieve transparency in water planning procedures, including opportunities for public participation in water management decisions. Much of the impetus for reform comes from the 2004 National Water Initiative (NWI), which for the first time in Australian water policy history explicitly recognised Indigenous rights and interests in water. Parties to the NWI...

    • 10. Water Planning and Dispossession
      (pp. 179-192)
      Jessica K Weir

      The policy failure of successive governments who over-allocated river water for agricultural consumption in the Murray–Darling Basin is now being addressed through the purchasing of ′environmental water′ to boost river health. Already, 920 gigalitres of water has been purchased from farmers selling their consumptive-water entitlements to the Federal Government′s Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH). The Murray–Darling Basin Plan extends this work, proposing that an additional 2080 GL be purchased, to reach the target of 3000 GL. This planning is in line with the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth), which directs that the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) develop a...

    • 11. The Future of the Basin: Thriving or dying communities?
      (pp. 193-214)
      Chris Miller

      The publication of the much-delayed Guide to the proposed Basin Plan by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA 2010) should have seen it hailed as a landmark document. This was the opportunity to present for subsequent endorsement by the Commonwealth Government a robust basin-wide strategic plan, informed by the best available science. Such a plan would have secured the long-term environmental sustainability of this precious resource, ensured a sustainable future for irrigated agriculture—on which Australian food production depends—and offered the prospect of long-term sustainable livelihoods for basin communities, albeit a future with less water.

      Instead, the publication of...

  8. Part III. Legal issues

    • 12. A Sustainable Murray–Darling Basin: The legal challenges
      (pp. 217-232)
      Douglas Fisher

      The range of legal instruments informing how the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) is managed is extensive. Some provide guidance; a number indicate strategies and policies; some assume the form of protectable rights and enforceable duties. What has emerged is a complicated and sophisticated web of interacting normative arrangements. These include

      several international agreements including those concerning wetlands, biodiversity and climate change

      the Constitution of the Commonwealth

      the Water Act 2007 of the Commonwealth

      the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement scheduled to the Act

      State water entitlements stated in the Agreement

      Commonwealth environmental water holdings under the Act

      the Murray–Darling Basin...

    • 13. Evidentiary Issues with the Implementation of the Sustainability Duty of Care in the Basin Plan
      (pp. 233-242)
      Jennifer McKay

      This chapter explores some of the possible legal ramifications of implementing the sustainability duty of care in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. Australia—having pushed to the limits all available power bases in the Federal Constitution—was able to achieve a political settlement with the States in 2008. This enabled the Federal government to use power refered from the States under section 51(37) of the Constitution. These unique sets of legal arrangements were marshalled to enact the Water Act 2007 with its requirements to draft the first Basin Plan for sustainable diversion of surface and groundwater in the Murray–Darling...

  9. Part IV. Economics

    • 14. Economic Costs and Benefits of the Proposed Basin Plan
      (pp. 245-262)
      R. Quentin Grafton

      This chapter examines the cost and benefits of increasing environmental flows in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) relative to the recent past, and the costs of business as usual of not increasing flows. The starting point for the analysis is the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan. Volume 1: Overview released on 8 October 2010 by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). The Guide is a consultation document that tries to give effect to the Water Act 2007 (Section 3, paragraph [d])—namely

      1. to ensure the return to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction for water resources that are over-allocated or...

    • 15. Multiple Benefits through the Life Cycle of the Basin Plan
      (pp. 263-276)
      Darla Hatton MacDonald, Rosalind Bark, Dustin Garrick, Onil Banerjee, Jeff Connor and Mark Morrison

      The objectives of the new water-sharing plan for the Murray–Darling Basin Plan are set out in the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth); cardinal among these objectives is the maximisation of economic, social and environmental outcomes for the Australian community (Water Act 2007, ss. 3[c] and [d][iii], s. 20[d]). Meeting this objective requires an extensive process of biophysical modelling and economic analysis of the costs and benefits associated with resetting the balance among multiple water users, including the environment. Maximising net benefits applies to plan development where implementation can be thought of as a two-stage process: a) establishing long-term sustainable diversion...

    • 16. Modelling Challenges
      (pp. 277-290)
      Qiang Jiang

      This chapter discusses the controversy surrounding the modelling work that has been undertaken in the Murray–Darling Basin Authority′s Guide to the proposed Basin Plan. Furthermore, the future modelling challenges of the social and economic impacts of the sustainable diversion limits (SDLs)—such as data availability, and the methods and objectives of modelling—will be identified, together with a review of existing modelling work within the Basin. To meet these challenges, the Australian Government should systematically facilitate researchers to accumulate the relevant basin data, or allow them access to their current basin data.

      In October 2010, the Guide to the...

    • 17. Irrigators, Water Trading, the Environment and Debt: Buying water entitlements for the environment
      (pp. 291-302)
      Henning Bjornlund, Sarah Wheeler and Jeremy Cheesman

      Since January 2008, the Australian Government′s Water for the Future initiative has secured at least 705 gigalitres (long-term cap equivalent, or LTCE) of surface-water entitlements through the Restoring the Balance (RTB) environmental water buyback. The Government has $1.8 billion remaining in RTB for future entitlement purchases, and to close the 2300–3300 GL environmental watering gap defined in the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan. The Government has indicated a willingness to draw deeper into the public purse to close the environmental watering gap if required. The Government has emphasised that environmental water buybacks have been made, and will continue...

    • 18. Economic Perspectives of the Proposed Basin Plan for the Southern Connected Murray
      (pp. 303-312)
      Donna Brennan

      The Guide to the proposed Basin Plan is discussed in the context of the proposed sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) for the southern connected Murray River. The emphasis is on whether the Basin Plan can deliver on the economic efficiency goals set out in the Water Act 2007. While the discussion is by no means exhaustive, a number of issues of concern are raised. First, the tendency for a market-price premium in the Goulburn Valley in some years means that the expected opportunity cost of water in sourcing Murray water from the Goulburn is higher than it is elsewhere. This has...

    • 19. Managing Risk in the Murray–Darling Basin
      (pp. 313-324)
      John Quiggin

      For much of the twentieth century, the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) was treated as a self-evidently desirable objective, to be pursued without excessive regard to questions of economic costs and benefits. Irrigation seemed to offer a ′drought-proofing′ solution to the risks and uncertainties that plague dryland agriculture in Australia.

      By the late 1980s, however, the capacity of the Basin to support additional diversions was close to exhaustion. Analysis at the time suggested—in the terminology of Randall (1981)—that a move from an ′expansion′ phase, in which resource constraints were relatively unimportant, to a...

  10. Part V. Governance

    • 20. The Role of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
      (pp. 327-338)
      Daniel Connell

      The new governance framework for the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) created by the Commonwealth Water Act 2007 is the first attempt to take a comprehensive approach to water management in the region. Previous arrangements applied only to a limited range of issues selected through a decision-making process requiring unanimous agreement by all governments. Realisation that many of the concerns excluded—such as the impacts of climate change—were a serious threat to future water security motivated the recent reforms. The requirement to produce a Basin Plan to be implemented through sub-plans developed by each of the States is the best-known...

    • 21. Improving Water Planning Processes: Priorities for the next five years
      (pp. 339-350)
      Mark Hamstead

      The Murray–Darling Basin Plan will be an overarching statutory document that relies on a range of subsidiary arrangements for its implementation.

      Water-resource plans are to be prepared at a regional level by basin State governments¹ and accredited by the Commonwealth minister. Requirements for accreditation will be set out in the Basin Plan. The timing of the preparation of these varies from 2012 to 2019, depending on when current water-allocation plans come up for review. Regional strategic environmental watering plans will also be developed by basin State governments within one year of the making of the Basin Plan.

      The Commonwealth...

    • 22. Connecting Science and Engagement: Setting groundwater extraction limits using a stakeholder-led decision-making process
      (pp. 351-366)
      Stuart Richardson, Ray Evans and Glenn Harrington

      Groundwater is a critical part of Australia′s water resources. Though it is generally of lower available volume than surface water, it still provides key supplies for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses for key regions and at specific times. About 6000 gigalitres of groundwater is estimated to be extracted annually from aquifers across Australia, with this water used primarily for consumptive purposes, such as irrigation. Groundwater supplies about 15 per cent of water for irrigation across the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), but this can increase to more than 70 per cent of the total water available in some catchments during extended...

    • 23. Comparative Perspectives on Basin Governance in the Murray–Darling Basin: Insights from the western United States
      (pp. 367-384)
      Dustin Garrick and Rosalind Bark

      The Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) is internationally recognised for innovation in basin governance to achieve more sustainable outcomes. This chapter examines water-management experiences from the western United States relevant to the emerging public dialogue about the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. We argue that a comparative perspective offers more scope for exchanging policy and practical lessons than previously recognised. Australia imparts more lessons than it stands to learn from the exchange, but the western United States has both success stories and failures that are instructive in four elements of sustainable water reforms, including: a) balancing multiple objectives in water reform; b)...

    • 24. What Can the Murray–Darling Basin Plan Achieve? Will it be enough?
      (pp. 385-398)
      Neil Byron

      The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has been criticised by many for what it has done so far, and how it has managed and communicated its extraordinary task. Debate is raging about whether the MDBA should reduce the amount of water irrigators are allowed to extract from rivers across the whole Murray–Darling Basin (MDB): not at all (as many irrigators assert); by 3000–4000 gigalitres (as the MDBA is currently considering); or by up to 7600 GL (as many environmental non-governmental organisations are demanding).

      For comparison, according to the MDBA′s recent Guide to the proposed Basin Plan (2010), under...

    • 25. Planning as Performance: The Murray–Darling Basin Plan
      (pp. 399-412)
      Ray Ison and Philip Wallis

      The performance that is emerging following the release of the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan at 4 pm on Friday, 9 October 2010 has been scripted since the creation and passage of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth) and the associated creation of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).¹ What is unfolding is a tableau that is the product of the structural determinism of its design.² In this chapter, we first characterise certain features of the emerging performance following the release of the planning Guide. These features are then set within some of the structural determinants of the current policy/planning...

    • 26. Enhancing Collaborative Management in the Basin
      (pp. 413-438)
      Katherine A. Daniell

      This chapter examines the potential benefits and costs of enhancing collaborative planning and management practices in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), relative to the current approach being taken at a federal level since the creation of the Water Act 2007 and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). In particular, the opportunities and challenges of increasing stakeholder engagement in water reform and planning processes will be investigated. A brief analysis of knowledge and expertise available for organising and implementing engagement activities to support effective collaborative planning and management practices will be provided, along with suggestions on how such knowledge and expertise...

    • 27. Improving the Basin Plan: Options for consideration
      (pp. 439-448)
      Mike Young

      Given the untidy release of the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan, the future depends on both the way the next phase of consultation processes are run and the policy decisions taken as the process runs forward. From an administrative perspective, many of the structural-adjustment and environmental-water management decisions lie beyond the remit of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). In recognition of this reality, this chapter begins by recommending that the new Chair of the Authority be given responsibility for coordinating development of a whole-of-government approach to the resolution of the Basin′s problems and development of the Basin Plan....

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 449-456)
  12. Index
    (pp. 457-478)