, Volume 14, Issue 8, pp 1232–1248 | Cite as

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

  • Marcus Finn
  • Sue Jackson


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.

Key words

Environmental flow Northern Australia Indigenous Water Values ELOHA 



The article is based on research conducted under a large multi-disciplinary research program, the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Research Hub (TRaCK). TRaCK receives major funding for its research through the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities initiative; the Australian Government’s Raising National Water Standards Program; Land and Water Australia; the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Queensland Government’s Smart State Innovation Fund. The authors would also like to acknowledge the contributions of indigenous traditional owners in the Daly, Katherine and Fitzroy River regions of north Australia. The Northern Land Council and the Kimberley Land Council representing traditional owners from these regions have supported the research described in this paper which was conducted in accordance with ethics approval granted by Charles Darwin University. Constructive input has been provided on various aspects of the research by Jon Altman, Michael Douglas, Brad Pusey, Mark Kennard, Tony Griffiths and Murray Radcliffe. The paper has benefited from comments by Alan Andersen, Michael la Flamme, Frederieke Kroon, Michael Douglas, Michael McClain, Jay O’Keeffe and anonymous reviewers. Any errors and omissions are the responsibility of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesWinnellieAustralia

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