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Water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin: A challenge in complexity in balancing social, economic and environmental perspectives




Williams, John

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Royal Society of New South Wales


The Murray-Darling Basin is a very good example of a complex system. It is a complex system of environmental function in which snow melt and winter rain feed the south, while subtropical summer- dominant rainfall feeds the northern rivers. It is a complex system of re-engineering and readjustment of the natural and built infrastructure. It is also a complex system of human endeavour facilitating community adjustment and development, strongly driven by extremely high climatic variability and thus agricultural productivity, which is exposed to highly variable prices and demand for its produce. Then across the top of all this complexity is climate change, which is expected to impact further on increased climate variability. Thrust upon these complex interacting, biophysical, economic and social systems has been public policy in water reform to address the large over-extraction of water for agriculture from the rivers and groundwater aquifers of the Basin. Amidst all this complexity, public policy sought to return stressed rivers and groundwater systems to healthy conditions where flood- plains, wetlands and riverine ecosystems regain a significant part of their ecological and hydrological function. Over $11 billion will be spent on the Basin Plan - a complex system in public policy and we are only in the middle of it. Despite this huge expenditure, the policy choices and processes are yet to show evidence that public benefit in a healthy river will be achieved.





Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales


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