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Community impacts of water markets in Australia's Murray Darling Basin: implications for social sustainability

IWRA World Water Congress 2008 Montpellier France
2. Towards the Future: Water Resources and Global Changes
Author(s): Jane Edwards
Brian Cheers
Henning Bjornlund
Geoff Kuehne
Cheers Brian. Director Centre for Rural Health and Community Development Bjornlund Henning. Associate Professor, Centre for Regulation and Market Analyis, University of South Australia Kuehne Geoff, PhD student, Centre for Regulation and Market Analyis,

AbstractIntroduction: It has become apparent that the resources of the Murray Darling Basin, Australia's main river system are overstretched. Consumptive use of water, including irrigation for agriculture, has harmed the ecology of the system by taking too much water from it. To redress this unsustainable practice, a National Water Reform Framework was introduced in 1994 to adjudicate competing claims for water. A primary mechanism of the framework is the establishment of water markets. The rationale is that by treating water as a marketable commodity it will be directed to efficient and productive users and that a large number of of inefficient, unproductive users will leave agriculture. Objectives: To examine the experience of water markets on rural communities and to consider the implications for community sustainability. Specifically, this paper examines whether water markets affect the viability of family farms, hasten population loss from rural areas and negatively impact on the social and economic life of rural communities. Methods: Semi-structured interviews with key informants in a case-study location. In addition, secondary data on the case-study site were also analysed. Results and conclusion: Key informants reported concerns over the social sustainability of their community due to population loss, dimishing numbers of family-owned farms contraction of the local economy, depletion of social capital, fewer opportunities for young people and diminished community capacity. Secondary data support some of the key informants concerns regarding the sustainability of rural communities. The implications of current water policy for the future of rural communities are outlined.
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