Lessons in water management across Pacific


A renowned sustainable river ecologist has identified water management in the Murray-Darling Basin as a model for other countries seeking to support communities and healthy rivers into the future.

Addressing the MDBA’s annual River reflections regional water conference in Narrabri, Professor N. LeRoy Poff from the University of Canberra and Colorado State University said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was a beacon for other nations on how integrated water management at the Basin scale can work.

“In the Colorado River Basin we are in a vicious water cycle of overuse, overtake and under regulation, and the latest projections are frightening,” Professor Poff said.

“Demand for water in the Colorado River Basin is now exceeding supply and by 2030, we’re looking at a shortfall in excess of 750 gigalitres, not accounting for climate change.

“When you consider that 85% of the current usage is going to agricultural production, that’s going to create ripples through the US economy and our food production capabilities.

“Water resources are highly contested and there is limited scope for flexibility to achieve more equitable allocations, especially regarding Native Americans and the environment.

“We also have the urgent challenge of how to plan effectively for a warmer and hydrologically more variable climate.”

Professor Poff said much could be learned from the recent decades of water management across all levels of government in the Murray-Darling Basin.

“Decision-making based on science and evidence is fundamental to preparing for a sustainable future in the face of increased human demand and shrinking supply. Scientists are eager to assist when brought to the table.

“The Colorado supplies drinking water for more than 40 million people and serves over 220,000 square kilometres of farmland with irrigation – yet lamentably, little is allocated for the environment.

“I’m particularly impressed by the balance achieved between community and industry needs and the protection of water for the environment in Australia. That commitment is enviable.

“While we live in different countries, we all benefit from sustaining river biodiversity and healthy river systems. Keeping adequate water in rivers promotes water quality and ecosystem amenities such as fisheries production, as well as more intangible benefits as aesthetics and spiritual values.

“We need decision makers to think seriously about how we manage water equitably across all competing interests to advance resilience at the system scale.

“The world is changing. In the Colorado River Basin we desperately need a whole system model like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. One that looks at the trade-offs among end-users and costs of environmental degradation with an eye to a more sustainable future for our grandchildren.”

For the full program of the MDBA’s annual River reflections regional water conference, visit https://www.mdba.gov.au/news-media-events/river-reflections-conference/conference-program-2023

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