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Evaluating scenarios for the Howard catchment: summary report for workshop participants and stakeholders

Straton, Anna, Jackson, Sue, Marinoni, Oswald, Proctor, Wendy and Woodward, Emma (2008). Evaluating scenarios for the Howard catchment: summary report for workshop participants and stakeholders<br />. Winnellie, NT: CSIRO - Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre.

Document type: Research Report
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Author Straton, Anna
Jackson, Sue
Marinoni, Oswald
Proctor, Wendy
Woodward, Emma
Title of Report Evaluating scenarios for the Howard catchment: summary report for workshop participants and stakeholders
Publication Date 2008
ISBN 978-1-921544-23-1   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher CSIRO - Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre
Place of Publication Winnellie, NT
Total Pages 46
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract The Howard River catchment covers approximately 1,500km2 in the rural Darwin region of the Northern Territory (NT). Over the past decade, increased demand from Darwin residents and residential and agricultural development in the rural Darwin region has increased competition for groundwater, thus generating tensions between different user groups, including those concerned about the health of groundwater dependent ecosystems.

The NT Government is turning to statutory water planning processes to regulate, share and sustain local water resources. In this, it is driven and guided by the national program of water reform introduced by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the National Water Initiative (NWI). These water planning processes include mechanisms to guarantee water allocations to the aquatic environment and the water accounting systems to underpin monitoring, trading, environmental and on-farm management. However, water planning in the NT is in its infancy and managers, planners and members of the community face a number of challenges.

One of the key questions to arise in water planning is how to allocate scarce water resources to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders holding multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives. One of the key questions for water planning processes is thus how to explore, weigh and negotiate the different and sometimes competing values and uses for water. This research was thus designed as part of a Commonwealth Government National Heritage Trust project to assist in water planning for the rural Darwin region by trialling social research and socio-economic decision support tools that can help explore and settle trade-offs between competing outcomes. To do this, a combination of methods was used to build understanding of the values, uses and issues for the Howard catchment, explore the conflicts and potential trade-offs, and evaluate several scenarios for the future. These methods included stakeholder consultations and workshops.

We brought together a group of stakeholder representatives in a structured and guided process of deliberation and evaluation, called a deliberative multi-criteria evaluation. It was found that there are multiple and sometimes competing values and uses for the water resources of the Howard catchment and a range of existing and emerging conflicts. The deliberative multicriteria evaluation process organised different outcomes for each value and use into scenarios and then enabled information to be shared and positions discussed as the workshop participants evaluated the set of scenarios for the future of the catchment.

While there was a range of opinions about the importance of certain criteria to the desired outcome for the catchment there was overwhelming agreement among participants in wanting to see the catchment’s environmental and recreational values maintained and improved. It was also acknowledged that the more likely scenario would include a combination of development and environmental/passive recreational outcomes. Participants concluded that the responsibility for sustainable water use is shared between users, managers and suppliers, and that maintaining environmental and recreational values in the face of population and other pressures will likely require authorities to begin a program of demand management for household water consumption in both the rural and urban regions. They also raised the importance of the need to coordinate land use and water planning.

The deliberative multi-criteria evaluation provided a structure for organising values, uses, preferences and scenarios and for participants to hear information from local experts on a range of issues. This information and the ability to ask questions of presenter and talk things through with the other participants dissolved some myths around water use and management in the catchment and from this emerged a new appreciation for the complexity of water planning and management and that responsibility must be shared by all. This kind of outcome, while not easily measurable, may serve to improve stakeholder consultations around future water planning in the NT.

As for the effectiveness of the deliberative multi-criteria evaluation in helping to explore, weigh and negotiate the different and sometimes competing values and uses for water in the Howard River catchment, there was a moderate degree of success as described above; however, two factors probably impeded a more effective process. First, a lack of data and modelling limited
the extent to which the scenarios and evaluation matrix were based on scientific understanding of the key relationships. Second, confusion about the weighting process limited the extent to which participants we able to engage with the scenarios and evaluation matrix. There are solutions for these problems: evaluation matrices can be developed based on better information and the weighting process can be explained more clearly. These learnings will be taken up in the next application of this method.

Based on the results of our work we suggest that the NT Government focus attention on gaining and providing more information on:
condition of aquatic habitat and populations of aquatic species;
new industry in the catchment;
risks to water quality; and
condition of terrestrial habitat and populations of terrestrial species

as the four most important criteria both before and after deliberation. These are the things that people care about and will look at to know how well things are going in the catchment. Our work also shows that providing further information and opportunities for deliberation can improve the level of agreement about what is important; a useful tool for bringing about some level of consensus in a water planning process.

This report is primarily for the participants of the workshops and for stakeholders who were contacted throughout the workshop process. It is not a complete report of the project and does not cover a substantial amount of the findings from the literature reviews and stakeholder consultations. The full report will be made available shortly1.
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