Environmental water (environmental flows) in all Australian states and territories is managed as a legal obligation under the National Water Initiative (2004). In most states, Australia now has regional environmental water managers.
Before 2004, there were only a few rivers and places in Australia where ‘active’ environmental watering was an established practice. So it is a very young profession with little operational experience or institutional support.
Some key needs emerged from discussions between active environmental water managers from across Australia when they met at a workshop in February 2009. As joint Chairs of that meeting, National Water Commissioner Ken Matthews and I observed that:
- Active environmental water management is a practice in its infancy; nevertheless, environmental water managers comprise a cohort of very committed, skilled and knowledgeable people.
- These practitioners often have to use their own initiative and enterprise to achieve environmental outcomes with the water available.
- As the current drought has continued, they have used environmental watering to keep environmental assets alive, rather than to restore long-term ecological health.
- Most environmental water managers work in regional communities and they understand and feel the economic and social implications of environmental watering, especially during the drought.
We concluded that environmental water practitioners have clear needs, through their organisations, for:
- best practice operational guidelines for active environmental water management,
- administrative procedures that allow them to move rapidly and react to on-ground situations as they develop,
- coordination among government agencies working to achieve environmental outcomes,
- reporting and sharing of operational experience and knowledge, so the practice can benefit from experience already gained
- timely data for decision-making; scientists in particular were noted as often not making their data and research findings publicly available as quickly as needed.
- professional development and training in all aspects of integrated water resources management, not just environmental watering.
The workshop, together with a background paper outlining real-world examples of environmental watering practice, is summarised in a report, downloadable at http://www.ewater.com.au/science/papers-and-reports/downloadable-documents > Non-authored reports.
Since late 2009 an online Community of Practice (http://www.cop4ewm.com.au) has made it possible for geographically isolated environmental water managers to interact with each other and with scientists in this field of work. This is an excellent initiative that I hope continues well into the future.