Deborah Nias

Deborah Nias

Dr Deborah Nias is a wetlands ecologist and the CEO of Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group with over 25 years experience in wetland science, restoration and environmental water management in the Murray Darling Basin. Deborah believes good science coupled with meaningful community engagement, should underpin all natural resource management.

Watering country: Aboriginal partnerships with environmental water managers of the Murray – Darling Basin, Australia

An emerging form of co-management of water in the Murray-Darling Basin between water managers and Aboriginal communities, is demonstrating the importance of building long-term and resilient partnerships. A complex environmental water governance system has developed in Australia over the past decade, with institutional arrangements that allow government and non-government organisations to acquire and manage substantial volumes of water for the benefit of the environment. Management of environmental water in partnership with other parties presents Aboriginal people with an opportunity to access water and restore environments, as well as reaffirm and rebuild socio-ecological relationships and waterdependent livelihoods. The emergence of collaborative partnerships between environmental water managers and Aboriginal community organisations in the Murray–Darling Basin is improving the quality of wetlands, as perceived by traditional owners and others, with more equity in the benefits from the acquisition and management of environmental water. The constraints and barriers are discussed, alongside the conditions that have laid the foundations for this emerging form of co-management of water.

Business, community and government partnerships for watering wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In 2007, the New South Wales Murray Wetlands Working Group won the Australian National Riverprize for its groundbreaking work in managing environmental water in NSW wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin. Now ten years later, the Working Group has evolved into a not for profit company (the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Ltd.) celebrating its 25th Year Anniversary and continuing to pioneer ways to improve wetland management whilst engaging with business, community and government. Since 2016, the Working Group has joined with The Nature Conservancy Australia in the management and ownership of Australia’s first Environmental Water Trust, dedicated to improving social and ecological outcomes for the wetlands and rivers of the Basin. The Trust is supported by the Murray Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund, which brings social impact investment into conservation using market based initiatives. Using investor funds, water is bought and traded by the Fund to generate investor returns, whilst also providing water and funds to the Trust for use in wetlands under management or co-management by the Working Group. This unique model is providing broader pathways for partnerships between community and government to achieve ecological and social outcomes at a local and landscape scale, plus demonstrating that co-operation across many stakeholders and jurisdictions is not only possible, but desirable. Examples of partnership projects include working with Aboriginal communities and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to integrate cultural and environmental outcomes in NSW, and projects with private landholders and irrigation companies to deliver water for conservation. This new market-based approach to water management for environmental and social outcomes in the Murray-Darling Basin is a significant and historic moment in Australia’s water reform process.

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