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WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT; THE AUSTRALIAN RESPONSE TO RISK, UNCERTAINTY AND CLIMATIC VARIABILITY

Congress: 2008
Author(s):
UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND, ARMIDALE, AUSTRALIA Ph. 61 2 6772 3144 Fax. 61 2 6773 3237 Email. jpigram@une.edu.au Presentation: Oral
AbstractTHEME: 1. WATER AVAILABILITY, USE AND MANAGEMENT Regional Session - Australia Australia is often referred to as the driest inhabited continent on earth. Rainfall and runoff are generally low and risk and uncertainty characterize the availability of water to meet demand. The response to this situation has been a long- standing commitment to storage construction, river regulation and diversion of stream flow to offset recurrent periods of water deficiency. In recent times, growing demands from agriculture, industry and a highly urbanised population, together with rising expectations about the quality of life and the environment, have intensified pressure on the nationís water resources. However, no longer can these demands be met merely by boosting supply. In most densely settled and developed parts of the country, economic, environmental and physical infeasibility limit the opportunity to build more dams. Moreover, groundwater reserves are also stressed in several areas. In these circumstances, the emphasis has shifted rapidly from further development of Australia's water resources to better management of available supplies. Administrative restructuring, pricing reforms and cost recovery, water markets and trade, integrated water resources management, allocation of water to the environment, and involvement of the private sector, are features of the re-orientation that is taking place in water policy and management. Although there is general consensus about the necessity for this re-direction, the transition has not always been smooth. In particular, conflicts over the pace and extent of change have arisen between the Federal Government and the State Governments that have constitutional responsibility for water. The process of change gathered pace in 2007 after severe and prolonged drought created unprecedented water shortages in both rural and urban areas in the southeast and southwest of the continent where much of the population and economic activity are located. The deepening crisis led to the emergence of a dominant role for the Federal Government in water policy and management. This was confirmed with the launch of a National Plan for Water Security supported by 10 billion dollars of federal funding to improve water use efficiency and river health. At the same time, widespread water stress resulting from the drought also prompted governments and water authorities to explore and adopt alternative options for improving available water supplies. Apart from progressively tighter restrictions on water use, these options include renovation and recycling of treated effluent and wastewater, both as a non-potable water source and for blending with drinking water supplies; desalination of sea water, brackish surface water and groundwater; rainwater harvesting; recovery of stormwater and urban runoff; and system improvements with selected extensions to water infrastructure. A national approach to water policy and management may yet emerge in Australia to coordinate state initiatives, address trans-boundary disputes and foster efficiency and accountability in water use consistent with the constraints imposed by a demanding environment.
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