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Law, Policy, and Management

Oranje Creativeres-page3, Research Capabilities

Water policy and management is determined by National and State legislation, and frameworks, guidelines and policies that sit underneath the legislation. In many areas, legislation and policies are expressed on the ground through groundwater management plans, which set rules for water use within more than 250 groundwater management areas across Australia.

Groundwater legislation and management has lagged surface water management, and in many areas of Australia widespread groundwater extraction for irrigation of crops commenced before sophisticated groundwater management regimes were in place. This has created challenges where management approaches have been imposed on extraction systems that were already established and were sometimes unsustainable. Since 1992, ecologically sustainable development (ESD) has been a prominent principle guiding many laws relevant to groundwater. This concept has been reflected in several legal cases and groundwater sharing plans have been upheld as lawful even when they have changed preexisting water user expectations.

The NCGRT has capabilities in analysis of groundwater law and policy and can provide advice on policy and law reform to better manage groundwater resources and align with ESD goals and is ideally placed to conduct comparative studies across Australian and international jurisdictions. We have also examined and can provide advice on groundwater management rules to achieve water management and sustainability goals, and on the role of adaptive management.

Selected Publications

Cook PG, Shanafield M, Andersen MS, Bourke S, Cartwright I, Cleverly J, Currell M, Doody TM, Hofmann H, Hugmann R, Irvine DJ, Jakeman A, McKay J, Nelson R and Werner AD (2022) Sustainable management of groundwater extraction: An Australian perspective on current challenges. Journal of Hydrology – Regional Studies, 44, 101262.

Nelson RL (2022) Water Rights for Groundwater Environments as an Enabling Condition for Adaptive Water Governance. Ecology and Society, 28.

Thomann JA, Werner AD, Irvine DJ and Currell MJ (2020) Adaptive management in groundwater planning and development: A review of theory and applications. Journal of Hydrology, 586, 10-12.

Nelson R (2019) Water Data and the Legitimacy Deficit: A Regulatory Review and Nationwide Survey of Challenges Considering Cumulative Environmental Effects of Coal and Coal Seam Gas Developments. Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 23, 24-34.

Noorduijn SL, Cook PG, Simmons C and Richardson S (2019) Protecting groundwater levels and ecosystems with simple management approaches. Hydrogeology Journal, 27, 225-237.

Nelson R (2018) Regulating Cumulative Impacts in Groundwater Systems: Global Lessons from Australian Experience, in Cameron Holley and Darren Sinclair (eds). Reforming Water Law and Governance: From Stagnation to Innovation in Australia (Springer, 2018) 237-256.

Castilla-Rho JC, Rojas R, Andersen MS, Cameron C, and Mariethoz G (2017) Social tipping points in groundwater management. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 640-649. https://doi/org/10.1038/s41562-017-0181-7.

Jakeman AJ, Barreteau O, Hunt RJ, Rinaudo JD, and Ross A (eds) (2016) Integrated Groundwater Management: concepts, approaches and challenges (Springer open access) 762.

McKay J (2007) Groundwater as the Cinderella of water laws, policies and institutions in Australia. International Symposium on Groundwater Sustainability.

Sudan FK and McKay J (2007) Institutional aspects of groundwater governance: experiences from South Australia and lessons for India. International Journal of Environment and Development, 4, 1-32.