Science to underpin sustainable water development

20 October 2016

Scientists warn we need a strong understanding of the needs of all water users, including the agricultural sector, before major water allocation decisions are made in northern Australia.

Hub Leader Michael Douglas delivered a presentation on the issue at the Developing Northern Australia Conference in Darwin in June.

Professor Douglas says water is central to the northern development agenda and security of water for agriculture is a critical issue.

“The secure water available for agriculture is the total amount of water available minus the water that is required by other users, such as the environment, fisheries and Indigenous people,” Professor Douglas said.

“However, our understanding of the water needs of other users still has a way to go. For example, how much water do we need to support good fishing in the Daly River or how might the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the Fitzroy River impact Indigenous values?”

Northern Hub Leader Professor Michael Douglas presenting at the Developing Northern Australia Conference 2016

Northern Hub Leader Professor Michael Douglas presenting at the Developing Northern Australia Conference 2016

Professor Douglas says answering questions like these will help support sustainable development in the north.

“The world’s track record of developing water resources is poor, and in Australia we have the unfortunate example of the Murray-Darling. In northern Australia there is potential to do things better. There is still time to get critical information in place to inform good policy, planning and management here.”

Research under the next phase of Hub projects will support sustainable water management, including:

  • Research to improve our understanding of the flows needed to support natural assets in the Mitchell, Daly and Fitzroy Rivers.
  • Research to identify which rivers in the Gulf of Carpentaria are making the most significant contribution to the health and productivity of the Gulf.
  • Research to improve our knowledge of Indigenous water requirements within the Fitzroy River.

“Science has a critical role to play in helping to determine the water requirements for all users so that trade-offs can be understood and negotiated,” Professor Douglas said.

“This information is vital to ensure that water resources in the north are secured for all water users and that agriculture is sustainable in the long-term.”

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