Water Policy Reform
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Water Policy Reform

Lessons in Sustainability from the Murray–Darling Basin

Edited by John Quiggin, Thilak Mallawaarachchi and Sarah Chambers

Agriculture in the Murray–Darling Basin of Australia represents a controversial ‘policy experiment’ comprising large capital investments, innovation and enterprise across a hundred-year period. This book, which contains contributions from some of Australia’s foremost economic, social science and public policy researchers and writers, examines the evolution of public policy frameworks that transformed water management from initial exploitation for irrigation as a dominant single use to a dynamic multiple use resource system.
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Chapter 10: Water Allocation, Social Change and Resilience

Helen Ross, Sally Driml and Zohreh Zarezadeh


Helen Ross, Sally Driml and Zohreh Zarezadeh INTRODUCTION The Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan: Overview (The Guide) was released in 2010 (MDBA, 2010), as the latest in a 15-year series of initiatives to improve water management in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) and try to redress long-term degradation of the environment resulting from decades of over-extraction of water (MDBA, 2010).1 The key implementation strategy is to reduce the amount of water that can be diverted from the river for irrigated agriculture and other uses. This is to be achieved over up to nine years through a reduction in sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) for water from the rivers, supported by water trading, water resource planning, as well as structural adjustment assistance and transitional arrangements. Reallocations of water on the scales envisaged for many catchments will require substantial social and economic adjustments. It is clear from public reaction to the release of The Guide that official projections of socioeconomic impacts including job losses are highly contested, as well as raising severe public concern (ABC, 2010). Clearly the public is focused on job losses in agriculture and related industries, effects on the family and localised pain involved. The prospect of some possible but undefined offsetting job creation in other industries has apparently not reduced public concern. A healthy ecosystem – the aim of the proposed water management changes – underpins reliable livelihoods and, hence, economies and human quality of life. The recognised challenge is to give due prominence to economic, environmental and social...

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