Water efficiency enables irrigation farmers to stay productive

When you think about irrigation, the first thing that comes to mind, is probably not “water efficiency”. After all, the farmer is using more water, right?

However, that is not the case when you are as efficient in managing water as our Australian farmers.

With the right technology and planning, usage of water can go down while value of production goes up.

Despite the Murray-Darling Basin Plan meaning our farmers have had to hand over 2075GL of water away from agriculture, so it can be used for the environment, we have seen our irrigated agriculture sector increase production value through improved water use efficiency.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2017-18 the value of fruits and nuts produced using irrigation increased by 9.2% and dairy increased by 8.3%.

“In 2017-18 Basin irrigators grew more than 70% of all Australia’s grapes, 41% of fruit and nuts, 20% of our vegetables, 99% of rice and 82% of cotton – among other products.” [1]

And that’s just in the Murray-Darling Basin. When it comes to the whole of Australia, the numbers are even higher: “Australia’s irrigators produced 82.5% of our vegies, 92.5% of fruit and nuts, 92% of grapes, 92% of cotton, 100% of rice, 52.5% of dairy, 52% of sugar cane” [1].

Irrigation is a very important part of Australian agriculture; without it the farmers wouldn’t be able to grow their crops and feed the nation in drier years. Modern irrigation infrastructure allows for water to be stored in dams both on farms and in rivers in wet years, and also includes equipment and technology to use the available water as efficiently as possible to last longer.
This will reflect in data showing that farm production keeps going no matter the weather. This enables the industry to keep communities alive and produce enough food and fibre for the whole nation in both wet and dry years at a relatively stable quality and quantity.

Irrigation allows food and other crops to adapt to the changing climate, and thus will have enduring value to allow Australian farmers to prosper sustainably amidst growing concerns over water security.


[1] https://www.irrigators.org.au/2017-18-stats-show-irrigation-doing-its-job-securing-food-and-fibre/

Why irrigation is important for sustainable food production

  • Irrigation is about getting the most amount of fruit, veggies, grains, fibre (and other produce) with the lowest amount of water resources.

  • Irrigation lets farmers control their water so that it can be used optimally to get the most crop per drop. Water can be applied to a crop in the right quantity, at the right time.

  • Irrigation underpins the production of many fruit, vegetable and cereal crops including soya, berries, nuts, legumes such as mung beans as well as supporting meat, dairy and fibre.

  • Increasing food demand and increasing water scarcity means irrigation has a vital role at the nexus of food and water security into the future.

  • Irrigation technology and infrastructure allows farmers to be more resilient to the harsh realities of Australia’s variable rainfall patterns and dry climate.

  • Since the late 1960s, irrigation farmers have worked with governments through multiple stages of water reform, actively seeking to improve the environmental and productive resilience of their local regions.

  • Irrigation in NSW contributes more than $3.5 billion to the State’s economy [1]  and employs tens of thousands of people across the production and value chain.


We must continue to recognise the role of irrigation in sustainable food and fibre production, through efficient management of water resources, as well as the environmental stewardship of our farmers by protecting biodiversity, providing drought refuges for wildlife, and in conserving native species.


Full credit and all rights for the previous stories are reserved for the relevant Member Organisation. Thank you to our Members, and other partners, for taking part in this campaign.


 [1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gross Value Irrigated Agricultural Production 2016-17.

Highlights from World Water Day: Yanco Creek

Irrigation farmers in Yanco Creek are collaborating to improve platypus habitat in their waterways.

This involves over 150 landholders voluntarily contributing through levy payments to improve the health of the creek system. These irrigation farmers highly value wetland ecosystems and the populations of threatened species in the catchment, such as the nationally endangered Trout Cod while at the same time producing high yielding, high quality food and fibre.


By Christine Freak, Jim Cush, Linda Christesen

This week a number of our Members took part in our Floodplain Harvesting Tour. The Members travelled throughout the Gwydir and Namoi Valleys to look at a range of irrigation farms and river systems, and also heard from the Government about the Healthy Floodplains Project.

The tour was a huge success, and we are very thankful to our Members Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association and Namoi Water for hosting the group, and for Coleambally Irrigation, Murray Irrigation and Ricegrowers Association for taking part. 

Some of the take-home messages from the trip included:

  • FPH is a very infrequent and irregular event, with events happening only 1 in 5 years (estimated average) or for many farms further from a waterway, only 1 in 8 years. 
  • Farmers have invested significantly to develop structures to store flood water in these wet years, in order to have a water supply for a number of years into the future when it’s dry. This prevents the need to take water from rivers during these dry periods. These structures also allow water to be recycled on the farm.
  • The geography and hydrology of the Northern Basin is unique, as water moves through small creek systems and floodplains.
  • FPH is just part of a portfolio of water sources which irrigation farmers have to manage risk.
  • The current licensing process is about regulating an existing historic practice – it will not allow any more water to be taken.
  • The volume of take during a floodplain event is often very small in comparison to the total volume of floodplain flows at the time.





Day 1

The tour started in the Gwydir Valley at Moree, where we heard that the valley is characterised by low water reliability, but is also currently facing serious drought conditions – on par with the worst drought on record. The below maps shows the extent of the floodplain areas in the Gwydir. As you can see, the flood extent map covers a significant amount of the area.

Our first visit was to Peter’s property west of Moree. Peter explained how his family have developed their land and built infrastructure to carefully manage the extreme climatic fluctuations between floods and droughts, which are typical in the area. This has involved significantly investing in infrastructure to prevent floodwater from damaging crops, and having the storage capacity so that when it does flood on to his farm, his family can use that water in future years. Peter is pictured below at their pump site where the water is metered, with the NSWIC Chair Jim Cush.

Peter also showed us a creek at the back of his property where the force of the extreme floods in this area can be seen.

We then went to see the farm of the NSWIC Chair, Jim, and we saw how the farm is designed to manage and recycle water. Jim explained that his farm has been designed around managing floodwater effectively. Jim explained:

the ability to store floodwater takes the pressure off
both farmers and the river system in dry years.”

We then headed into Narrabri where we met with a representative of the Department of Industry who gave a presentation on the Healthy Floodplains Project.

The Healthy Floodplains project aims to improve on this system of regulation by implementing a new three-fold compliance approach, including monitoring of actual take at an individual and valley-scale rather than using modelled estimates, and monitoring of storages to determine volumes of take. Currently floodplain harvesting is controlled through work approvals process under the NSW Water Act 1912. This process provides regulation of floodplain protection structures.

Note – The NSWIC is supportive of the need to licence floodplain harvesting activities and to issue the appropriate water access licences to bring a recognised and accepted practice into line with the requirements of the Water Management Act 2000.


Day 2

Day 2 started with a visit to a cotton farm in the Namoi Valley. The farmer explained that a large focus of theirs over the previous few years has been gaining the ability to determine the sources of water used on the farm, particularly when the water is recycled to be used multiple on the farm. He explained that the use of telemetry has been a huge benefit to recording the volumes of water on farm more easily. The dam storage has been surveyed, including all the internal curvature, so that a reading of the water level can accurately indicate the volume of water in the storage, which can then be communicated directly using telemetry.

Groundwater is used to provide the baseline amount of water, with the bore deeply sunk so that smaller nearby farms and graziers can use shallower bores for their water access. Floodplain water is used occasionally on this farm as part of the water portfolio.

We then headed to Namoi Water, where we learnt of the history of FPH management and policy development. This included how irrigation farmers have actively participated in the process in good-faith, such as through Irrigator Behavior Surveys. We also heard some more technical information regarding the modelling of FPH, and asked whether the model can generate an entitlement that will accurately reflect historical use, as is intended.

We discussed the challenge of including rainfall runoff within a FPH licence. The group discussed that rainfall runoff is a ‘created water’ rather than a form of take, as farmers have invested significantly in ensuring the runoff from their properties can be recycled and reused to maximise water efficiency – and thus this recycled water is not a form of take.

The next stop was Waverley, near Wee Waa. This property is located a larger distance from the major waterways, so there is significantly less opportunity to store floodwaters. Here the reliability of flood water is about 12.5% (1 in 8 years). We got to see a cotton harvest (grown from groundwater and supplementary), as well as a new system of irrigation using a double channel to reduce labor time. 

Overall, the tour was a great success and clearly demonstrated two of the core values of NSWIC under our 2019-2024 Strategic Plan: Collaboration and Leadership. It is so important that our community of irrigation farmers in NSW work together to understand and discuss the challenges we face.

Moving forward, we must continue our efforts to ensure that FPH is licensed appropriately in a way which supports public confidence and trust, and recognises this highly valued form of water security for farmers in these areas who face climatic extremes of droughts and floods.


For more information on FPH – see our video: https://www.nswic.org.au/factsheets/

Highlights from World Water Day: National Farmers Federation & Australian Farmers

Australian Farmers shared the news of the installation of Australia’s largest solar diesel hybrid irrigation system, which officially turned on last year.

The 1500 solar panels cover almost one hectare of land on Jon Elder’s 6000 acre cotton and wheat irrigated farm. Mr Elder’s irrigation system is now run by a 500kw solar system during the day and as the sun goes down the diesel generator gradually kicks in to water his farm.

“By switching to the hybrid system we will be producing 500 tonnes less greenhouse gas each year. The environmental advantages are incredible,” Mr Elder said.

In the last ten years the price of solar panels has dropped by 85%, which has lead to more farmers making the business decision to use solar in their everyday farming practices.


Photos Courtesy of National Farmers Federation & Australian Farmers. [1

Highlights from World Water Day: 
Murrumbidgee Irrigation

Murrumbidgee Irrigation shared how they deliver environmental flows to several sites, including Tuckerbil Swamp and the Ramsar listed Fivebough swamp, which have been critical in supporting the Australasian bittern breeding.  

Murrumbidgee Irrigation also shared news of a local orchardist, Orlando (Ronnie) Calabria – an 81-year-old orchardist – who has planted 30,000 trees in his lifetime to restore the local environment.

Photo courtesy of Murrumbidgee Irrigation


Highlights from World Water Day: Ricegrowers’ Association

The Ricegrowers Association (RGA) showed how the Australian rice industry is a trailblazer for sustainable irrigation farming, with Australian rice growers using 50% less water to grow one kilo of rice than the world average, and are recognised worldwide for growing high quality rice varieties suitable to Australia’s climate.

The farms where rice is grown host an enormous diversity of wildlife, including threatened or endangered species such as the critically endangered Australasian Bittern and Southern Bell Frog. One of Australia’s most endangered birds, the Australasian Bittern, otherwise known as “the Bunyip bird”, is rarely seen and is a globally threatened species. 

The Bitterns in Rice Project [1]  seeks to bridge the gap between agriculture and wildlife conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Rice growers together with scientists are supporting this project. From this project, we have discovered that there is a breeding population into the hundreds using NSW Riverina rice crops as breeding habitat. It is estimated that there is only about 2500 individuals remaining in three countries: Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

Highlights from World Water Day: 
Cotton Australia

Cotton Australia shared that Australia is the most water efficient producer of cotton in the world, and is continuing to invest in research to improve water use efficiency. The Australian cotton industry achieved a 40% increase in water efficiencies in the decade to 2013.

On average cotton farms have approximately 42 percent of their land dedicated to native vegetation.  More than 42,000 birds representing 45 species were found on farm water storages in the Gwydir Valley, 153 bird species were found in natural vegetation in the Namoi Valley, and 450 species of invertebrates have been recorded in one cotton field during the summer. [1

Photo courtesy of Cotton Australia


Murray Irrigation

The environment is the single largest customer of Murray Irrigation, which has the largest geographic footprint of all irrigation infrastructure operators in NSW.  Through their agreement with the Office of Environment and Heritage, they are able to deliver environmental flows into  the Edward River, Jimaringle-Cockran and Gwynnes Creeks and the Tuppal Creek.  They also deliver both environmental and operational water into the Wakool River and Billabong Creek (which also service numerous communities in their footprint).

Murray Irrigation has also been working with local farmers and environmental water managers to deliver water through the Murray Private Wetlands Watering Program since its inception in the early 2000s.

EnvIrrigators campaign shows environmental stewardship of irrigation farmers

By Christine Freak

For World Water Day (March 22nd), the NSW Irrigators’ Council launched our EnvIrrigators campaign.

The campaign celebrated irrigation farmers’ environmental stewardship and contributions to water efficient, and thus sustainable, food and fibre production.

The campaign highlighted tremendous examples of irrigation farmers carefully managing their local environment in NSW.

  • Many of our farmers have wetlands on their property and work with the Office of Environment and Heritage to water the area to make a drought refuge for wildlife.
  • We have irrigation farmers in NSW undertaking Native Re-vegetation Programs on their farms to promote biodiversity.
  • We have irrigation schemes who deliver environmental water to valuable wetlands.
  • Furthermore, our irrigation farmers in Australia are some of the most water efficient in the world.


Highlights from World Water Day: Coleambally Irrigation Corporation Limited

CICL has been working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to use their water channel infrastructure to deliver environmental water to natural wetlands in the Coleambally area since 2015. CICL delivers environmental water to a number of native wetlands located on private property that have been otherwise disconnected from naturally occurring periodic water events.

By using their channel infrastructure, environmental water can be delivered to sites which otherwise would only ever be inundated in extremely wet years. These sites are privately owned, and the areas watered are being voluntarily managed by the owners for wildlife conservation.

The primary focus of OEH’s program in the area is the delivery of water to the Wargam Swamps in the south-western part of the CICL area, with water supplied via the West Coleambally Channel. These swamps are located 69km north of Deniliquin and 81km south-west of Coleambally and provide an important refuge habitat in the agricultural landscape for water birds.

CICL is currently partnering with OEH through their Saving Our Species initiative to secure the Southern Bell Frog population in the wild. CICL has also commissioned two field guides for native plants and birds of the Coleambally Irrigation District.

CICL has been working with the Bitterns in Rice team [1]  to monitor bittern breeding in the area and to help develop recommendations for bittern-friendly rice farming. More information about the first Bittern to be tracked by satellites as part of the Bitterns in Rice project, can be found here. [2

Coleambally Irrigation Area has undergone modernisation through a Land and Water Management Program, which is a joint government and community investment in improved land and water management to preserve the environmental sustainability. [3

By Mike Wade [1] and Stefanie Schulte

With the progressive implementation of the Basin Plan 2012 and the ongoing debate about how to best and most effectively achieve the triple bottom line objectives of the Water Act 2007, the NSW Irrigators’ Council initiated a project to better understand where effective partnerships and cooperative arrangements between irrigators and environmental water managers have let to positive outcomes for all – communities, the environment and rural businesses. Not only do we want to shine the light on great projects that are already underway, but also seek opportunities for small scale complementary measures and mutually beneficial partnership that could achieve a more effective and efficient environmental outcome while having no detrimental effects on rural industries and the communities that depend on them.

Needless to say, there are many great New South Wales examples that highlight how close collaboration between a diverse set of regional partners – including irrigators and the irrigation infrastructure operators [2] the NSW Government, researchers and local communities – lead to mutually beneficial environmental/industry outcomes. One inspiring example is the recently launched campaign “Water for Wildlife and Rice Project [3]” championed by the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia that builds on years of research, hard work and dedication by NSW rice growers [4] around “The Bitterns in Rice Project” [5]. The Bitterns in Rice Project was a project focused on how farming and wildlife conservation could work together to protect a globally endangered Australasian Bittern whose numbers have dwindled to only 1500-4000 in the world.

In order to explore whether there are more innovative ideas and new initiatives that could lead to improved environmental-social-economic outcomes in regional NSW, we started a dialogue with irrigators and irrigation representative bodies in NSW to ‘pick their brains’ on what else might be possible. While we were not surprised to hear many great ideas – some of which involved the use of existing irrigation infrastructure or other natural resource management activities – many irrigators told us that ‘in order to achieve success, everyone needs to be willing, cooperative and think outside the box’.

While we have not concluded yet the project yet (see below), we thought it might be worth looking at how other jurisdiction have approached ‘partnerships’ and how successful they have been. For that reason, we have spoken to Mike Wade, CEO of the Californian Farm Water Coalition to pose the questions: “what has/hasn’t worked?” and “what should we look out for when we are developing more effective partnerships in Australia?”.

 Mike, California has some complex water challenges, can you tell us a bit about these issues?

California is America’s biggest producer of agricultural products, in terms of both the value of production and the sheer number of crops produced. The farm gate value of California agriculture was US$46 billion in 2016 with the production of over 400 commodities. California is also America’s most populous state, containing almost 40 million people. In addition to the pressure on water supplies from a growing urban population, there is an added burden to increase support for the state’s environmental resources; California’s plants, animals, birds, and fish. As a result, there is a lot of competition for the state’s land and water resources.

  1. How have your farmers overcome some of these challenges?

The critical element in managing the wide range of competing stakeholders is cooperation. Battles over water resources have been happening since California’s Gold Rush [6] in 1849, prior to gaining statehood in 1850. Our current system of water rights, based on English Common Law, grew out of the conflicts between gold miners over who had senior rights to divert water for their mining claims. This process of “first in time, first in right” eventually evolved into the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which is fundamental in California today. Much of this water rights system [7] remains intact and was instrumental most recently in managing dwindling water supplies during California’s 2012-2016 drought.

In California, water rights are held by the State with the understanding that water is owned by the people. While they are considered a property right, California water rights are attached to the land and are not bought and sold by individuals as they are in Australia. The right to use water is permitted by the State under various forms including riparian rights, appropriative rights, groundwater rights, and federal reserved rights. All water use in California is required by the state constitution to be beneficially used and not wasted. Irrigation, as a practice, is considered to be a beneficial use although recently, some have tried to define certain types of irrigation or various crop choices to be wasteful and therefore not meeting California’s beneficial use standards. To date, those efforts have failed.

  1. Can you give us an example of a partnership that is working well? How did it come about? Who was involved?

Some of California’s most valuable partnerships have evolved through the cooperative efforts of urban and agricultural water users joining together to support environmental goals. For decades, the three sides often fought for their self-interests, hoping to gain the advantage and ultimately a bigger, more reliable water supply. Under the authority of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) [8], the balance, and a considerable amount of the state’s water supply, shifted in favour of the environment starting around 1992 with the federal Central Valley Project Improvement Act [9]. The process of adopting more stringent environmental laws and regulations lasted many years and has culminated with the imposition of two biological opinions in 2008 and 2009. Adopted to increase protections for the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta [10], these new rules significantly reduced the amount of water pumped from the estuary for the benefit of agricultural and urban water users. This resulted in the re-purposing of roughly 1 million acre-feet (1,233 GL) per year from agriculture and urban use to the environment.

That model has begun to shift, partly due to the failure of this redirection of massive volumes of water to correlate with improvements in fish populations. Salmon and Delta smelt have not rebounded as predicted so water users began looking for better science to help solve the problem. What they found was that non-flow (complimentary) measures play a bigger role in supporting the ecosystem than simply adding more water. That realization was enhanced through partnerships with environmental organizations looking for solutions that worked for farmers, urban water users, and the environment.

One such effort is called the Nigiri Project [11], named for a form of sushi with a slice of fish n top of a compact wedge of rice. The Nigiri Project uses harvested rice fields during the winter by flooding them and reintroducing salmon in an effort to mimic historic floodplains that once inundated the area. The results are encouraging with improved habitat for salmon and shore birds while maintaining productive farming operations during the summer.

  1. What are the signs of success?

Twenty years ago, a multitude of water users signed the Yuba Accord, which improved timing, as well as flows, on the Yuba River. In short, more cold water was made available for fish at the right times of the year to have a positive environmental impact while preserving water supplies for farmers to use when they needed it.

And new projects continue to develop today. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is a joint powers authority serving 28-member public water agencies, 26 of which contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation for water supply within the Central Valley Project. The agencies collectively deliver water to 1.2 million acres (485,600 hectares) of farmland, 2 million California residents and millions of waterfowl on nearly 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) of managed wetlands in the Pacific Flyway.

Numerous members of the Authority have embarked on water supply and ecosystem restoration partnerships that provide valuable water supply reliability for both farmers and their managed wetland neighbours [12].

  1. What are you hoping you will be able to achieve in the context of partnerships for the next 10 years?

These successes, fuelled by multi-stakeholder partnerships, are achieving very encouraging results. More environmental groups, farmers, and public water agencies are willing to invest in cooperative research projects that are leading to measurable results. The environmental community finds success in creating more productive habitat that helps struggling fish populations. Agricultural and urban water users are able to look toward more reliable water supplies; learning that non-flow measures are more effective than an environmental water grab at achieving broad ranging ecosystem goals.

  1. Are there any take-home lessons for Australia?

Look for common ground. We don’t always agree on everything but even the most diverse group of stakeholders can find areas of common interest on which they can work together. That is where the real successes are. Defining common goals and working together to achieve common interests is the solution that has often eluded California water users for more than a century.

Further details:

If you have any involvement in environmental watering or have a great idea how it could be improved, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with NSWIC via email nswic@nswic.org.au


[4] In partnership with Birdlife Australia, the Australian Government, Coleambally Irrigation,  Murray Irrigation, National Landcare Programme, Rural Industries (Research and Development Corporation, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, Murrumbidgee Naturalists Fields, Murrumbidgee Landcare, Local Land Services Murray, Local Land Services Riverina and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

By NSW Irrigators’ Council

Over the last 35 years, the NSW Irrigators’ Council has worked tirelessly to protect irrigators’ rights to use water. While the issues the Council has been involved in have grown substantially since its humble beginnings in 1983, our work now expands beyond the borders of NSW and Australia.

Over the last six years, the Council has been invited to advise on several Australian water management issues and speak at international events, including in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel to share our experiences and expertise in Australia’s water resource management, State and Federal water reform processes and water governance framework.

This year, our Policy Manager Stefanie Schulte had the opportunity to attend the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia (Brazil) where she met and engaged with government officials, water resource professionals and industry experts on key water resource management and water security issues across the globe.

Over the five days in Brazil, Stefanie joined discussions on water governance; the use of smart technology to manage water resources; and, energy-food-water challenges as well as how to engage the next generation of water professionals through social media, online platforms and gaming.

Stefanie also represented the Council on an international panel, where she and Claire Miller, former manager policy strategy at Dairy Australia, spoke on the principles of Australia’s water allocation framework, demand management options and trade. Aside from discussing the necessary pre-conditions for Australia’s water markets, Claire and Stefanie also touched on some of the emerging regulatory and policy challenges for Australia’s water resource management. Both emphasised the need for strong regulatory frameworks underpinning the water allocation and trading regimes, and government management of trade transactions.

The panel session that Claire and Stefanie presented at was titled “Can water management and allocation systems lead to sustainable use of water?”, and was one of 95 sessions convened under nine Themes. This session under the Development theme brought together shared experiences in systems and technologies to allocate, regulate and efficiently manage water use by all stakeholders including industry and the environment.

Water markets, metering, licensing, centralized management, user pays and leveraging private investment are all being tried, in combination and alone, to achieve the rational and efficient sharing, management and use of water among competing stakeholders. The panellists debated the relative merits of various international water allocation regimes and teased out the local contexts in which each framework was established and is now administered.

Panellist Layla Lambiasi, from the Centre for Sustainability Studies of Fundação Getúlio, Vargas, Brazil, explained that water markets were among the options being explored in Brazil to address water scarcity, with Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan among the international case studies informing local  policy. Markets were seen as legally feasible and technically desirable, but politically uncertain.

Wesley Gabrieli de Souza, from Brazil’s National Water Agency described the severe drought conditions that spread across Brazil from 2014 to 2016, and the challenges of financing water allocation decisions; ensuring the sustainable operation, maintenance and monitoring of the water infrastructure; and, managing conflicts around irrigation and water supply systems, investments in water use efficiency and lost profits.

Ju Hee Jeung from K-Water in South Korea, explained that South Korea’s water use and supply systems were now shifting from the post-World War II priority of basic use and development toward water  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

She showed how increasing domestic use was driving up overall water use in her country, even as agricultural use has declined since the turn of the Century. This was pushing South Korea to the limits of its water supply, despite enjoying higher than the global average rainfall. Several rivers had been closed to further water allocations, and systems were generally overallocated even with water rights holders using only 35% of their entitlement.ater  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

Finally, Anthony Akpan, from the Pan Africa Vision for the Environment based in Lagos, Nigeria, promoted the value of good governance at all levels, public and private, to improve quality of life, access to water, and protecting cultural and biological diversity.

In each of the case studies, it became clear that water allocation frameworks require careful planning, ongoing strategic investment and considerations of context specific environments to manage scarcity, competing interests and changing future water challenges.

Also, it was acknowledged that no water allocation system is yet sophisticated enough to warrant complacency on previous achievements or future reform processes. Room for improvement can be found everywhere, whether through smarter systems, better institutional design, improved stakeholder engagement or effective partnerships.

The final key messages from the Development Theme were that:

  • As a key water user, agriculture must increase its participation in water management discussions.
  • Land-energy-water can’t be managed/planned independently.
  • Water allocation must be done in a more equitable and inclusive way that can drive social and economic development.
  • An integrated approach urban-rural must be applied for water resources (fresh & groundwater) planning and management.
  • Assure that investments and policies in water infrastructure are done considering multi-objectives and sustainable allocations.

The panel discussion was tied closely into the overall World Water Forum’s theme: “Sharing Water”. As the Brazilian president declared at the opening ceremony, more than two billion people across the world are still without access to clean drinking water.

Coordinated and cooperative policy development is necessary to achieve an adequate access to water in each country while ensuring that water resources are used and managed sustainably for current and future generations in addition to providing for future economic growth and development.

This point was particularly important to the Brazilian president, whose country had just struggled through a severe water crisis.  Many years before the media warned of an approaching ‘Day Zero’ for Cape Town, South Africa, one of the largest cities in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo, nearly ran out of water.

In 2014, São Paulo found itself in the midst of the worst drought in its recorded history with less than 20 days’ water supply before taps would run dry. While extreme water restrictions, ad-hoc engineering fixes to the city’s ailing infrastructure and some rainfall averted a water catastrophe, the recent memory of the crisis is still very vivid when the Brazilian president.

Other global leaders expressed their views on the need for further investment in capturing and treating water, water efficiency projects and sharing best practice experiences around water management and water allocation – a task estimated to cost more than $US650 billion worldwide.

However, the call for future investment was not the only key message from the World Water Forum. Participants were reminded that we are likely heading towards a future marked by greater water scarcity and more frequent water crises.

As the recent report by the High-Level Panel on Water “Making Every Drop Count: An Agenda for Water Action” declared, parts of our planet today are suffering from either devastating drought or destructive droughts, increasing water stress that restrains social progress and economic development.

“Water is a matter of life – not just for our health, food security, energy production, jobs and cities but also for vital ecosystems.”

As such, the concept of sharing and recognising the legitimate uses of water was a strongly theme of this year’s World Water Forum with an urge to adjust our mindset from conflict to cooperation to reach sustainability.

Like the rest of the world, Australia remains a ‘work in progress’ when it comes to the management and allocation of water resources. While Australia has achieved a lot (both positive and negative), more work is ahead of us as we head toward the next World Water Forum in Senegal in 2021.



Footnote/ Explainer:

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water-related event, organised under the umbrella of the World Water Council (WWC) which brings together a diverse set of stakeholders (400 institutions from 70 countries) interested in water.

The WWC mission is to “promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues and to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning and management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all”.

The WWC provides a platform to encourage debates and exchange experiences around water resources management from around the world. The WWC organises the World Water Forum every three years together with the respective host country and city. To date, there have been eight editions of the World Water Forum, the latest one in Brazil being the first that has been held in the Southern Hemisphere.