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Sharing water with nature: Insights on environmental water allocation from a case study of the Murrumbidgee catchment, Australia

Becky Swainson
Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada;
Rob de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada;
Reid Kreutzwiser
Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Human use of freshwater resources has placed enormous stress on aquatic ecosystems in many regions of the world. At one time, this was considered an acceptable price to pay for economic growth and development. Nowadays, however, many societies are seeking a better balance between healthy aquatic ecosystems and viable economies. Unfortunately, historically, water allocation systems have privileged human uses over the environment. Thus, jurisdictions seeking to ensure that adequate water is available for the environment must typically deal with the fact that economies and communities have become dependent on water. Additionally, they must often layer institutions for environmental water allocation (EWA) on top of already complex institutional systems. This paper explores EWA in a jurisdiction - New South Wales (NSW), Australia -€“ where water scarcity has become a priority. Using an in-depth case study of EWA in the Murrumbidgee catchment, NSW, we characterise the NSW approach to EWA with the goal of highlighting the myriad challenges encountered in EWA planning and implementation. Sharing water between people and the environment, we conclude, is much more than just a scientific and technical challenge. EWA in water-scarce regions involves reshaping regional economies and societies. Thus, political and socio-economic considerations must be identified and accounted for from the outset of planning and decision-making processes.