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Noon seminar - Lessons in water management from Australia for the Colorado River Basin

Monday, February 06, 2012, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Brad Udall

CU-NOAA Western Water Assessment

The Murray Darling Basin in Australia bears many geographic and climatic similarities to the Colorado River Basin but Australian water management is remarkably different from that utilized in the United States. Since the early 1990s Australia has pursued a broad national agenda of water reform which includes full cost pricing, sufficient water for the environment, water conservation, irrigation infrastructure improvements, and clear delineation of roles and responsibilities of different water institutions among other reforms. A series of substantial changes to commonwealth and state law has resulted from these major initiatives. This reform effort was capped by groundbreaking commonwealth legislation in 2007 and 2008 that to large extent federalized the operation of the nation’s largest river system, the Murray-Darling. A new basin wide authority, the MDBA, was created to manage the river via the concept of sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) to be promulgated through additional federal legislation. The October 2010 initial plan for these SDLs suggested cuts in use of up to 40% in the basin and was met with widespread opposition by irrigators. Subsequently, top leadership in the MDBA resigned, a number of parliamentary inquiries were begun, and the entire process has been delayed. How did Australia get to its current position with respect to water reform, and what is the likely outcome of the current delay? How has water management evolved in Australia over the last 20 years? What lessons exist for the Western United States and especially the Colorado River Basin?