Hilary Johnson

Hilary Johnson

Hilary Johnson, Australia

Mr Hilary Johnson is a Director within the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, a division of the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy. The Office supports the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, a statutory position responsible for managing the environmental water entitlements owned by the Australian Government in the Murray-Darling Basin. Hilary has worked for over 8 years in environmental water management and policy development for Australian Government agencies. In this time, he has participated in and led the development of environmental water governance frameworks, legislative reforms, decision-support tools, and communication and engagement activities. His current role sees him responsible for advising and implementing decisions on the use of Commonwealth environmental water in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. He is a representative on the Southern-Connected Basin Environmental Water Committee and sits on the Steering Committee for the National Cultural Flows Research Project.

Presentation Title: Operational challenges and strategies for managing environmental water in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is the largest and one of the newest water users in the Murray-Darling Basin. Since the first watering of a wetland in 2009, over 6000 gigalitres of Commonwealth environmental water has been delivered across the Murray-Darling Basin to benefit rivers, wetland and floodplains and the biota they support. Being both a large and relatively new water user presents several challenges, particularly when operating in a system that has been designed and historically managed primarily for irrigation and other human uses. Experience over several years has highlighted the need for environmental water managers to be flexible, adaptive and creative to get the best outcomes. Key strategies include: adopting ‘good neighbour’ policies and approaches that manage impacts on third-parties so as to create a social license to operate; determining seasonally-appropriate watering actions and applying a ‘natural cues’ decision-making framework; using portfolio management strategies (such as trading and transfers) to get water to the right place, at the right time; and continually adapting actions and incorporating new knowledge to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental watering. While these strategies have yielded positive results, they also highlight the ongoing need to work collaboratively with resource managers and other water users to ensure that river management policies and operations continue to evolve over time to best meet the needs of all users, including the environment.