There are major changes underway in the management of water in Australia, with one of the most significant being the ownership of water entitlements by the environment. When announced water buy-back programs are completed and promised water infrastructure investments are implemented, the environment will be the sole largest holder of water entitlements in Australia, and that water will be used to restore or improve ecological processes and environmental assets associated with Australia’s major inland rivers. How that water will be managed; who will be responsible for making decisions about it; how the general community will be able to monitor how well that water is being used; and who will decide whether the environment is receiving sufficient water, are all questions that are yet to be answered. The decisions that will need to be made are complex, because they incorporate both economic (attempting to ascribe economic values to outcomes that can be achieved from alternative uses of water) and scientific (how much water is needed to achieve desired environmental outcomes) elements, and both have considerable uncertainty. The research project was initiated by the Australian Farm Institute to advance discussion on these questions, and to identify some preferred options for the future management of environmental water in Australia. Given that the Australian public will, in future, be the owners of water assets valued in excess of $3 billion, it is important to make sure these assets are managed in a way that maximises the return from them, while at the same time enabling irrigated agriculture to continue to make a large contribution to national economic output. The aim of the research reported here was to utilise the knowledge of experts who have extensive experience in water policy issues to further develop thinking on how decisions about allocating water to the environment should be made. This is important not only to ensure environmental water is used effectively, but also because the same decision-making framework will be used to decide how much water will in future be available for irrigated agriculture. Each of the four experts responded in quite different ways to each of the questions posed.
|Australian Farm Institute
|Published - 2010