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Collaborative Water Planning: Retrospective Case Studies - Water planning in the Ord River of Western Australia

Ayre, Margaret L. (2008). Collaborative Water Planning: Retrospective Case Studies - Water planning in the Ord River of Western Australia<br />. Nathan, Qld.: TRaCK Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge.

Document type: Research Report
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar

Author Ayre, Margaret L.
Title of Report Collaborative Water Planning: Retrospective Case Studies - Water planning in the Ord River of Western Australia
Publication Date 2008
ISBN 978-1-921544-31-6   (check CDU catalogue  open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher TRaCK Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge
Place of Publication Nathan, Qld.
Total Pages 117
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract Executive Summary

Water planning is a process to allocate and sustainably manage water to meet our future water requirements. Good water plans provide for river health and community needs. Public consultation is integral to an effective water resource planning process. The occurrence of severe water resource management problems throughout many southern regions of Australia has focused recent attention on water planning processes as a means of balancing competing uses of water, addressing over-allocation of water entitlements and achieving transparency in water decision-making. Water management is thus a key natural resource management challenge; with persistent drought in southern Australia, and climate change predictions for such droughts to increase in frequency, there is unprecedented interest in the management of water resources in northern Australia. Northern jurisdictions are responding to the national agenda for water reform with the roll-out of water plans in regions facing increased water use pressures.

The report is part of a broader project TRaCK – the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research hub – which aims to develop new approaches to water planning relevant to northern Australia. TRaCK brings together leading tropical river researchers and managers from across Australia to focus on the sustainability of rivers and catchments from Cape York to Broome.

The project seeks to understand the place, practice, barriers and enablers to collaborative water planning. The project aims to improve water planning efforts at two levels:
• Nationally by developing a tool-kit of good practices to engage industry, Indigenous and rural communities; by setting guidelines   and benchmarks to monitor and evaluate collaboration in water planning; and by establishing procedures that integrate Indigenous values into water planning.
•Regionally by assisting water agencies to improve water planning approaches; by helping to minimise conflicts between parties; by providing models and case studies for good collaboration; and by helping stronger, long-term relationships between stakeholders.

The project has two phases: firstly, a review of the literature to develop a conceptual foundation for the project and two retrospective case studies. The purpose of these case studies is to develop an understanding of contemporary water resources planning in north Australian settings. Secondly to conduct two prospective case studies as an action research project.

To date there have been very few water plans prepared in northern Australia. The only one in the north-west is the Ord River Water Management Plan. This report reviews the water planning process in the Ord River in Western Australia (WA) undertaken between 1997 and 2006 by the Western Australian Government1. It pays particular attention to the public participation aspects of this water planning process.

The aims of the Ord River case study are to:
• describe public participation in the water planning process;
• use the Collaborative Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (CMEF) (see Figure 1);
• interpret public participation in the statutory water planning process;
• identify barriers and opportunities for collaboration in the water planning process.

This report describes the context and process of the water planning process for the Ord River  region as a backdrop to development in the region. It evaluates the water planning process against a series of criteria for the quality of public participation in water planning. This evaluation is used to identify community expectations as well as the barriers and enablers which may support effective collaboration in water planning for Northern Australia. This case study demonstrates the need to consider the role of water planning in the context of the political imperatives of government. In this case study it is acknowledged that the water planning process is just one part of a broader context of water and land-use planning and management activities in the Ord River  region. This broader context is a historically contingent and continually evolving complex planning landscape which is characterised by particular political, economic and social imperatives. These include the:

• ongoing development of the Ord River Irrigation System and irrigated agriculture in the Ord River
  Irrigation Area;
• protracted native title negotiations that involved a consent determination and package of
  benefits for Aboriginal traditional owners of estates in the Ord River valley (see Section 2.4.2);
• resource use agreements between private interests and government (see Section 3.1.2);
• unique cultural and historical profile of the East Kimberley region and its population.

The Ord River agricultural and hydrological project has a long and complex history of development as an unfulfilled modernisation project (Head 1999; Arthur 1997). It looms large in the geographical imagination of Australians: in particular Lake Argyle, with a volume nine times that of Sydney Harbour, is hailed as a modern engineering wonder (Kittel 2005). Many have commented on  the socio-economic and cultural effects of broad scale landscape, land/water use and demographic  change through the development of irrigated agriculture in the Ord River region (see Lane 2003; Lane, 2004; Head 1999; Arthur 1997). These effects include alienation of Indigenous lands, modification of river flows in the Ord River scheme, and the development of a regional population centre at Kununurra.

It is more than 30 years since the Western Australian governments first promulgated the vision to irrigate large expanses of land in the Ord River region for agriculture as the Ord River Irrigation  Area (ORIA). To date the vision has only partially been realised. The first stage of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, known as Ord Stage 1, was completed in 1972 with approximately 15,000 hectares  of irrigated land under agricultural development (King, Loh et al. 2001). The second part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, Ord Stage 2, has a chequered history of delays and has not yet been implemented.

The Ord River water plan was the first to be undertaken in Western Australia. At the time planning for the Ord commenced, the Rights in Water and Irrigation (RIWI) Act 1914 did not provide for statutory water planning, although there did exist procedures for water resource planning. The water plan took 10 years to complete culminating in the release of the Ord River  Water Management Plan (ORWMP) in December 2006 (DoW 2006).

The Ord River water planning process was protracted for a number of reasons including:

• previous water resources developments such as a major dam and proposals for expansion of the
  Ord Stage 2 irrigation area;

• other government legal commitments particularly those relating to native title;

• changing demand for hydro-power to power a nearby diamond mine;

• changing policy environment which required information and methodologies concerning environmental
  flows and so required more baseline research on the Ord River ecology.

The public participation process for the development of the Ord River water management plan itself  was brief, minimal and difficult to extricate from the myriad of other planning and engagement  activities undertaken by the State water agencies during the period. At the commencement of the planning process the RIWI Act had no statutory requirements for community involvement. These were  put in place in 2000 along with a state-wide policy for environmental water provisions. These new requirements highlighted the importance of community involvement as an essential component of planning and management of water.

Despite this policy directive the water planning process in the Ord River had several shortcomings. Firstly, the water planning process failed to uphold its stated aims of transparency (WRC 2000b: 5), inclusiveness and promoting discussion and communication (DoW 2006: 149) and this compromised the quality of the decision-making processes. Secondly there is limited community awareness of, and hence support for, the outcomes of the allocation planning process undertaken in the Ord. This may  be attributed to several barriers for improved water planning including the:

• existing legal agreements that compromised the transparency of water planning;

• need to incorporate and account for disparate knowledges;

• lack of continuous feedback and engagement of stakeholders;

• need to clarify the role of the public in water planning;

• inadequate Indigenous participation;

• need for a process that is both flexible and resilient to external decision- making.

In addition two external processes affected the water agency’s public participation strategy: a parallel community NRM process known as Ord Land and Water (OLW); and the native title negotiations that led to the Ord Final Agreement.

During the planning process the requirements for community involvement were ambiguous for the  planners and the community. However the Department actively sought to engage community members in water planning issues and activities through both formal and informal mechanisms. Formal mechanisms included public submissions and an established Community Reference Panel. Informal activities were initiated by the Department as a means to complement the information and involvement from the submissions and panel. By taking a flexible approach, agency staff worked to align processes and to create opportunities for alternative modes of participation within the water management planning process for the Ord River. They did this by supporting other initiatives relevant to water use and management in the Ord River region. Through this support, the agency sought to build the capacity of the Ord River community to engage with water use and management issues and activities, including  the development of a water management plan for the Ord River. These informal activities outside of the planning process have been instrumental in creating a platform for future water planning activities.

Agency water planners acknowledge the constraints on and complexities of the Ord’s planning processes. They used administrative flexibility and facilitation of community engagement initiatives outside the formal process to create social learning opportunities which are central to collaborative water planning. They also expressed a desire to better incorporate community  knowledge, aspirations and values.

Western Australia’s current water management framework remains in flux with its legislation under  review. One of the main areas to be strengthened in the proposed water legislation is the  involvement and participation of stakeholders in the planning process. In light of the lessons from the Ord River experience this report confirms the significance of community engagement  methodologies in water planning in the legislative review. Some areas water managers may wish to  explore include:

• Improved communication strategies for diverse interest groups to address their particular
  information and learning needs. Developing effective communication approaches with communities,
  including Indigenous communities, requires a cross-cultural negotiation of strategies for producing
  and disseminating knowledge.
• Capacity-building tools to increase community understanding of water planning as well as the
  ability to contribute meaningfully to the planning process.
• Training and professional development for agency staff and science providers to better
  facilitate community collaboration in planning and research.
• Specific Indigenous engagement strategies to identify the implications of water plans for
  cultural heritage, values and practice and the economic development opportunities provided by water
• Participatory impact assessment methodologies with best-practice scenario projections and
  predictive modelling.
• Data, knowledge and information systems with the capability to handle multiple epistemological
• Decision-support systems for rigorous and transparent trade-off analysis in decision-making.
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Created: Tue, 08 Mar 2016, 15:59:32 CST by Marion Farram