[ASC-media] Media release: Australia's world model catchment

CRCA Media crca-media at starclass.com.au
Tue Apr 13 13:01:09 EST 2004

CRCA Media Release	04/13

April 13, 2004


Australia's mighty Murrumbidgee is showing the world how a river catchment may be managed for the best results for the community and the environment.
The Lower Murrumbidgee is the world's first and only 'global reference basin', selected in a competitive process from twenty-five other river basins around the world as part of UNESCO's HELP (Hydrology, Environment, Life and Policy) program.

Hundreds of river catchment managements around the world are using the Australian river as a model as they attempt to become members of HELP.

"The HELP program is designed to establish a global network of catchments to improve the links between hydrology and the needs of society," says Dr Shahbaz Khan of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sustainable Rice Production, who is the Regional Co-ordinator of HELP.

"We need science to manage the water resource, but we also have to look at the economic, policy and legal aspects," says Dr Khan. "There are many regions of the world where this is done in bits and pieces, but in the Murrumbidgee the CRC and other agencies  have managed to pull it all together.

"To become a 'global reference basin' you need to have a catchment of a considerable size with all those aspects of science and society working together," says Dr Khan.

The Lower Murrumbidgee includes nearly a thousand kilometres of river, from the Burrinjuck Dam near Wagga Wagga, to western NSW where the Lachlan River runs into the Redbank Weir near Balranald.

Dr Khan was responsible for putting the case for the Murrumbidgee as the first global reference basin.

"This success recognises the involvement of the Murrumbidgee community in hydrological and environmental research, and the development of integrated catchment management policies," says Dr Khan.

"Policy makers, hydrologists and scientists from around the world are coming to Australia to learn from the local experience," says Dr Khan. 

"The modelling tools and participatory hydrologic research methods which we are using in the Murrumbidgee catchment are now also being applied on the Yangste and Yellow Rivers in China and the Indus Basin in Pakistan," says Dr Khan. "There's also strong interest from southern Africa, especially from the Olifants catchment which extends through South Africa and Mozambique."

He says that a suite of computer models developed by CSIRO for natural resource management under the title SWAGMAN (Salt, Water and Groundwater Management) are particularly adaptable to catchment conditions in other parts of the world.

Dr Khan says for the next ten-year phase, more than a hundred catchments around the world have been invited to become part of the HELP scheme, and asked to use the Murrumbidgee as a model in drafting their submissions, describing their own level of integrated catchment management.

A HELP management panel, including Dr Khan, will be meeting in Bonn in April to assess the results of these submissions, identifying strengths and weakness, and planning the most useful international linkages between them.

Dr Khan stresses that the HELP program aims to achieve a multidisciplinary approach to water management by breaking paradigm locks between hydrologists, policy makers and water managers through examples such as the Murrumbidgee.

"Even though the hydrology research done by CSIRO with the Rice CRC Sustainability program in the Murrumbidgee has been selected as a global reference basin, this does not mean that it is the only model," says Dr Khan. 

"It is not a one-way traffic of knowledge," he says. "There is a lot of knowledge in catchments in Pakistan, India, China or the Philippines which is coming back to catchments in Australia. For example, even though the Indus or Yellow river catchments are similar arid catchments as the Murray-Darling Basin, the 'drivers' which determine water use in the community may be different, leading to different outcomes.

"This may be in the form of examples where population pressures cause increased water usage, and the consequences of this; or it may be the result of the need to share water resources with different groups or even nations, and how such conflicts are resolved," he says.

Dr Khan says that the HELP program is able to break down communication barriers.

"We all speak different languages, and even within the same language, there are groups which don't understand one another," he says. "Policy makers often use a totally different language to scientists, for example. We're able to cut through these language barriers.

"And our science is driven by the stakeholders," he says. "There's no point in doing good science and publishing many papers, if nobody uses it.

"Within the HELP framework we know that the science we are doing is world-class, and that it will be put to good use by the people in the catchments," he says. "We are also helping to achieve Australia's National Research Priority No.1: an Environmentally Sustainable Australia."

HELP is an open-ended joint project of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Meteorological Organization, to make hydrology more relevant to land and water managers, farmers, and the general community, and to establish a network to enable people around the globe to share their expertise and their experience.

"The aim of HELP is to bring real outcomes to real people in real catchments," says Dr Khan. "Although HELP has no powers to enforce good management, experience shows that good practice is readily accepted when there is an efficient global mechanism for knowledge exchange."

More information from:
Dr Shahbaz Khan, CSIRO Land and Water			02-6960 1578
									0409 984 076
Prof. Julian Cribb, CRCA Media					0418 639 245

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