, Volume 14, Issue 8, pp 1232-1248
Date: 13 Sep 2011

Protecting Indigenous Values in Water Management: A Challenge to Conventional Environmental Flow Assessments

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Abstract

Although environmental flow assessments and allocations have been practiced in Australia for nearly 20 years, to date they have not effectively incorporated indigenous values. In many cases, even though indigenous people rely substantially on aquatic resources, environmental flows have been assumed to be an acceptable surrogate for the protection of indigenous interests. This paper argues that the need to adapt flow assessments to account for linkages and dependencies between people and rivers is equally applicable to developed world indigenous contexts such as Australia as it is to developing countries where there has been some attempt to address indigenous or subsistence water requirements. We propose three challenges to conventional environmental flow assessments that, if met, will improve the ability of water resource planning to address indigenous interests. The first challenge is to recognize that in an indigenous context a different suite of species may be considered important when compared to those valued by other stakeholders. Although conservation status or rarity may be important, it is common and widespread species that make substantial contributions to indigenous household incomes through customary use. The second challenge is to accommodate a different set of management objectives in environmental flow allocation. Environmental flows will need to meet the requirement of hunting and fishing activities at rates that are socially and economically sustainable. The third and arguably most theoretically challenging task is for environmental flow assessments to take into account indigenous worldviews and the quality of people–place relationships that are significant in indigenous cultures. Meeting these three challenges to environmental flow assessment will assist water management agencies and other practitioners to protect indigenous interests as water allocation decisions are made.