Environmental water management is changing. Driven by factors like climate change, drought, flood and increasing awareness of the plight of threatened species that depend on healthy rivers and wetlands, around the world, policy programs to restore environmental flows have proliferated. In some places, we are investing huge sums of money in recovering water for the environment. For example, in the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, the Commonwealth Government is investing AUD3.1 billion in water purchase, as well as another AUD5.8 billion in efficiency projects, which will also increase water availability. Under the newly released Murray-Darling Basin Plan, this will deliver 2750GL of environmental water (with another 450GL to follow). Whilst this is the biggest program of its kind in Australia, state governments have also been investing large sums in environmental water recovery. This sort of investment is also taking place in the western states of the USA, where a range of government and not-for-profit environmental water organizations work with irrigators to restore instream flows.
In some ways, we've got more environmental water than we've ever had, since extractions reached their modern levels. Whilst recovery is still important, in many places, the emphasis is switching to the importance of managing the recovered water. Environmental water managers have to show their investors (taxpayers, or donors to private organizations) that they can get 'bang for buck' with their water. In some places, this is as simple as protecting the improved instream flows (not actually all that simple in practice!). In others, it can include making use of the opportunities and increased flexibility offered by active water markets, to move water around geographically, and convert water into money that can be invested in alternative methods to improve the health of aquatic habitat.
With more water, and more active management required, the role of environmental water managers, and the process of environmental water governance, has never been more important. How can environmental water be managed effectively, and efficiently? How can environmental water managers ensure they have sufficient flexibility to manage changing water needs, especially in a climate change future when extreme weather events might be more frequent? How should environmental water managers retain some independence from the politics of the government of the day, yet remain responsible to the public for managing a public resource?
It's never been a more exciting time to be an environmental water manager, or to be researching those who are. This blog will consider all these questions, and more, and will hopefully also include some guest authors who know far more about the activities of their own organizations than I do.