Adaptive Management of Environmental Flows — 10 Years On
Many rivers in south eastern Australia have been degraded because of changes to flow caused by development of water resources. Environmental flows — water managed specifically to meet environmental objectives — have been proposed as a response to these concerns. In this chapter I look at the history of environmental flow policy and action and then consider the possible role of adaptive management in achieving better environmental flow outcomes. There are clear policies by state and federal governments to decrease over-allocation and provide water for the environment but the practical implementation of these policies has been fraught. Consumptive users have been given priority which, in a drying climate, means there is no water ‘left over’ to satisfy environmental needs. There is also a great deal of uncertainty around deciding on appropriate objectives for environmental condition and designing water releases to meet these objectives. Adaptive management is an appropriate response to reducing the uncertainty that plagues the relationships between management actions and outcomes, but first the legitimacy of environmental flows must be established. Unless we agree as a society that some water should remain in rivers for environmental purposes processes such as adaptive management of environmental flows, are unlikely to produce useful outcomes. They will be just a short term distraction until we work out how to exploit any remaining water resource.
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