instituute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia1, Institute for Water Business,University of Wisconsin-Whitewater2, Centre for water in the Minerals Industry, University of Queensland.3
Abstract In the last two decades there has been an increased focus on water, its use, value and commoditization, with human rights to access, good governance and corporate responsibility coming to the fore. While there is an increasing demand for potable water resources for human consumption, industry and agricultural production systems, this water comes at a cost to the environment and sustained ecosystem functionality. Therefore, a fine line exists between water allocation for human consumptive use and that which must remain unallocated for eco-hydrological functions. Because of this, a trade-off is inevitable and a measured approach is required. Corporations' impact on human rights in significant ways, particularly as they have become more involved in delivering services previously attributed to governments. The adoption of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is creating the framework in which companies (which are increasingly global in size and influence) have a degree of responsibility, not only for the economic consequences of their activities, but also for the social and environmental implications. The perceptions and counter-perceptions about water, its allocation or ownership are often not underpinned by science or effective communication. To assist in transitioning to good governance and improved environmental and community outcomes, relative to water allocation, both companies and the community require evidence of net benefit and sustainability. Inevitability this will incorporate trade-offs in allocation, ownership, and impact, but will also require increased knowledge, service and resource monitoring, education and stakeholder involvement. By understanding the need for trade-offs, and assigning primacy to water allocation on an equitable basis through an evidence-based system, better and more equitable management decisions on allocation can be determined. The mining and agricultural industries in particular are under continual pressure to sustainably manage the landscape-water interface to produce food and resources for an ever increasing population. Similarly, more intensively-managed irrigated farmlands are also under pressure from a competitive water market, urban expansion and climate variability, posing not only a threat to agricultural and horticultural industries but to water resources and food security. Four key freshwater service attributes have emerged as touch points in this evolving process: quantity, quality, location and timing of flow. These are inevitably linked to ownership; and, thereby, regulation and governance, relative to the impact and benefits, both of which need to be examined on the basis of immediate and cumulative outcomes. The concept of freshwater ecosystem services (eco-services) is now commonly used to identify the broad value of rivers, aquifers and lakes in terms of the services they provide directly and indirectly to society. This concept requires us to look further than the easily quantifiable values and services of freshwater resources - such as providing water supply for households, agriculture and industry -- to the less easily quantifiable 'regulating', 'aesthetic', sociological' and 'cultural' services. The management and disposal of water from urban, mining and agricultural uses poses a major economic and environmental challenge and the explicit consideration of the broad range of freshwater eco-services in mining and agricultural impact assessments is rare. In mining, in particular, there is evidence to suggest that the large economic benefits do not offset the long-term loss of ecosystem service; and illustrate the shortfalls in data and understanding needed to conduct such evaluations. Better knowledge about which indices of hydrological and hydro-chemical regimes are most relevant to stakeholders would help guide investment in baseline data, knowledge generation and the foundation for educational needs. Over the past decade, the international community has made significant advances in examining and clarifying the links between corporations and human rights. These initiatives include voluntary guidelines and codes of conduct, monitoring and reporting procedures, and socially responsible reporting indexes. In addition to expanding mining and urban competition; agriculture, in meeting the food needs of an increasing world population from a static or even decreasing land base, will require improved efficiencies and better allocation of finite water resources. However, these are not readily available and it is therefore not universally known how appropriate or successful these may be, or what the general needs/limitations in relation to eco-services valuation, trade-off and cumulative impacts are. The problem, in developing broad understanding and agreement about the risks and benefits of alternate water use, is commonly reduced to defining equitable use and the beneficiaries. This requires a breadth and depth of scientific understanding, and its effective communication between groups, to assist the community and stakeholders arriving at a common view of sustainable development. In applying these principles, there is clearly a need to understand functionality, the value of service delivered and trade-offs required. Therefore, to make explicit links between ecosystem responses (services and beneficial uses), protocols for their modelling and description, their regulation and governance, appropriately researched matching guidelines are required. In addressing these issues in a practical sense, there is an ongoing need for monitoring of the natural and productive resource base, and the human impacts on water resources within the extended environment. This requires not only scientific expertise, but also wider cooperative efforts from the water industry, policy makers, local government and others. This may provide stakeholders with the educational insights and accurate baseline information which will enable all parties to achieve a common agreement. This paper comments on the status of eco-services monitoring systems and CSR policies as applied to the mining and agricultural industries, and examines the effectiveness of these approaches.