University of Tasmania
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Local innovation and social learning in water management : integrating community knowledge into Australian rural water management

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:57 authored by Edeson, GR
Water management is a critical global issue. Water security, environmental sustainability, water quality and economic development are all objectives of water management. These objectives will be placed under increasing pressure as climate change leads to shifts in weather patterns and regional climate, shifts in biome and increases in climate extremes and variability. Integrated water resource management is a management model that aims to balance social, economic and environmental needs at a catchment scale to achieve sustainable outcomes. Integrated water resource management is widely posited as a leading framework for water reform. Australia has been a leader in developing a consistent and transparent water management framework for the whole country, driven by the national government. As will be shown in later chapters, this centrally driven model, has been effective in establishing minimum standards for water management. However the primary mechanism for public participation is consultation, which is a limited form of participation. This limited participation in water management, it is argued, means that opportunities to leverage and develop local knowledge are being missed and that this limits adaptive capacity. An adaptive management approach that fits within the Australian integrated water resource management framework evolved in the Ringarooma catchment in North Eastern Tasmania, and is the catalyst for this thesis. To understand the social and policy aspects of this approach, this thesis investigates: ‚Äö how the adaptive management approach works ‚Äö how real-time data and social learning support this adaptive water management approach, ‚Äö the extent to which the policy and regulatory frameworks in Australia can support this style of management and governance, and ‚Äö what options are available to improve participation and adaptiveness in Australia's water policy frameworks. The Tasmanian government developed a suite of Water Management Plans for catchments in Tasmania. The plan for the Ringarooma catchment presented new restrictions on accessing water. In response to these changes the irrigator community in the catchment developed an innovative approach to water management. The approach began with sharing surplus water in private dams during periods of low stream flow, and evolved to coordinating times that water users took water, through to the construction of a dam to manage environmental flows in the catchment's headwaters. This approach was used over a number of seasons, evolving from one-off responses by a small group of individuals to coordinated, collaborative approaches involving a large section of the community. This evolution coincided with the introduction of real-time monitoring of streamflow and other environmental indicators. The method that evolved for collaborative management in the Ringarooma is analysed as a model (a step by step approach for sharing water) as well as a framework (an approach for community collaboration to overcome resource limitations). The analysis was conducted on information obtained through semi-structured interviews and through reviews of policy documents, using participatory action research techniques. To understand the challenges in developing this type of water management capacity in Australia, policy frameworks in Eastern Australia and in Tasmania are qualitatively analysed using a matrix developed by the author to assess the extent to which they enable public participation in water management and to ascertain where barriers exist to implementing a collaborative management approach such as that developed in the Ringarooma. The policy frameworks are also examined using a matrix developed by the author to determine the extent to which they support adaptive management, and the nature of that adaptive management if supported. This study found that the model of adaptive management and the framework for collaborative management developed in the Ringarooma shows strong potential for improving social, economic and environmental outcomes from water management, and for building community capacity in water management and collaboration in the face of local challenges such as climate change and increasing demand for water. The community's ingenuity and ability to collaborate are a product of human capital and an enabling environment, both of which can be facilitated through policy or through the development of community institutions and collaborative structures. The real time data on streamflow and environmental condition was useful for monitoring impacts and coordinating action on water management, but not critical or transformative. Real time data does, however, create a potential basis for improving the environmental outcomes of collaborative management by helping to improve the environmental literacy of water users by linking their actions to impacts in real time. Both the model and framework are found to support social learning and social innovation, positioning them as viable methods for building resource management capacity in water dependent communities, and for building community resilience. Participation in water management and enabling adaptive management are found to be successful policy approaches to building adaptiveness in water dependent communities. Australia's water reform process has been driven at a national level since 1994. One of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of a consistent national approach to integrated water resource management was the need to develop consistent water and environmental literacy across regulatory bodies. This was overcome by building capacity in water planning through recruitment and training of specialist staff. The Productivity Commission, the Australian Government's principal review and advisory body on microeconomic policy, regulation and social and environmental issues, is calling for a new National Water Initiative to improve the consideration of climate change, and calling for institutional reform. A conclusion from this thesis is that a key way to achieve such reform is to build social literacy and capacity for collaborative management within water dependent communities. This thesis makes three contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it articulates and analyses the development and operation of water sharing in the Ringarooma and its interaction with real-time data on streamflow. Secondly it presents and applies a methodology for assessing participation and adaptive management provisions in water management documents. The application of this methodology allows for the analysis and comparison of different states' water management regimes. Thirdly, the use of strengths based approaches as tools for designing water plans is introduced and substantiated through argument.


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