There is no way to leave the river to itself anymore…

First insights in a comparison of River-Basin-Management in Europe (Danube) and Australia (Murray):

Driving past the locks, reservoirs and channels, passing dams and exploring the “feral carp“, it becomes obvious that we are driving along one of the worlds most regulated and managed water resources, the Murray-Darling-Basin.

But are there any differences compared to river and basin management structures and processes in other countries? And if so what are they? Think of the Danube, crossing 10 countries in Europe, from Germany via Hungary to Bulgaria, facing various political situations, different history and therefore forms of agriculture, diverse cultures and, thus, understandings of water usage, regulation, privatization and community engagement…

The European Water Framework Directive (factsheet) that started in Dec. 2002 aims at an efficient, “healthy”, legitimate and sustainable regulation of European water resources up to 2015, now, after revision, extended up to 2021/2027. Every European country is responsible for the realization of the plan, including information as well as involvement of the public.

In Australia, the Murray-Darling-Basin-Plan started in 2012 to guide government(s), regional authorities and communities to sustainably manage and use the water of and in der Basin.

The biggest challenge of the Danube region crossing Europe from west to east is the gap between European policy and regional and local projects; involved stakeholders can be located more on an institutional, governmental and scientific level; sometimes corporations, lobbyists as well as environmental groups are considered as well.

Whereas in Australia, water management seems to happen much more on a practical level; the biggest challenge (even for communication): the balance between citizen and community groups, between farmers, irrigators, environmentalists and private users. “You guys are doing a great job in Europe, having the Danube flowing through so many different nations and cultures. We have all the problems and rivalries under just one, federal government”, one of my interviewees (advisor of a senator) recognized. One of the interviewed water managers pointed out “we are always more reactive than proactive; a drought makes people moving, buybacks 2016-02-03 09.59.58from the farmers & irrigators for environmental purposes bring up a discussion as well as engagement”.

So, a first comparison of the research in Europe done so far, of the Danube-Basin-Management in particular with the Murray-Darling-Basin-Management, experienced in my field trip right now, shows the following:

Both are forms of regulation, both are forms of “organizing water as a resource”, both are trying hard to bring together economic, political, environmental as well as public interests, both are interested in a “healthy river” (like everyone, another interviewed irrigator mentioned more than just once).

And both face the challenge of a “missing link” between management processes and structures on the one hand and individual behaviour, involvement and engagement in the river.

But whereas in Europe, water management seems to be “too far away from individual water usage”, European politics too far away from individual participation, in Australia the local focus of environmental and water related engagement is described as one of the major challenges by the interviewees: “how can we get people to think broader, not having a local focus only?”, the advisor of a senator asked. Is it a cultural difference? Australians “only get moving if something affects them directly; they get passionate when something really hurts in their everyday life”.

For me, this is one of the subsequent questions for this or a future project: how much individual and organizational engagement is possible under the condition of (over)regulated water resources? Or is engagement “reduced” to the formats that are offered by the management plans (stakeholder dialogues, citizen forum etc.)?


One thought on “There is no way to leave the river to itself anymore…

  1. If a farmer owned Lake Alexandrina he would dredge it out in the middle ( selling off the soil at $$$$ ) so that it would hold water for the future, to have a huge lake like this at the end of our biggest River in Australia that is only 3 meters deep, if that, is dumb. I know it is a world Ramsar wetland that says they can only be this deep. With all the extraction of water from this location for grapes and other agriculture and pump it near dry then complain that the eastern states are not letting enough water pass. When they let it run out to sea in the wet season and kill sea grass and cause lots of problems, is again dumb. This can still be a wetland around the outer edges if done properly but a great water resource in the middle for our state of South Australia.


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