Healthy water builds healthy communities

1 JANUARY 2003

Population shifts, loss of services and declining environmental health including water and land quality are fundamental challenges threatening to undermine the livelihoods and lifestyles of many Australian rural communities.

Population shifts, loss of services and declining environmental health including water and land quality are fundamental challenges threatening to undermine the livelihoods and lifestyles of many Australian rural communities.

How can rural communities and regional universities, such as Charles Sturt University (CSU), address these issues while building sustainable, confident and healthy communities? How can research knowledge help community development, economic priorities and environmental protection? 

The Communities and Catchment Conference, hosted by CSU’s Institute of Land, Water and Society (ILWS), brings together national and internationally renowned researchers with community members, business and government representatives to discuss important issues affecting community, conservation and water and land management in the Murray Darling Basin. See paper summaries below.

To be held on Thursday 18 August at the Convention Centre on the University’s Wagga Wagga Campus, more than a dozen speakers including leading CSU researchers Professor Allan Curtis, Professor Margaret Alston, Professor Kath Bowmer, and Associate Professor Ian Gray will explore the social impacts of drought, the challenges of farm forestry, productive and sustainable irrigation farming, river restoration and engaging landholders in biodiversity conservation.

  • As part of the conference, Charles Sturt University will also officially launch the Institute of Land, Water and Society, a leading centre of research excellence. Institute director Professor Allan Curtis will formally open the Institute, which began work earlier this year, between 12.30 and 1.15pm at the Convention Centre.
Presentation highlights:
  • Social Impacts of Drought -  Professor Margaret Alston and Jenny Kent 
    Much is known about the economic and environmental impacts of drought, but little of the social impacts on rural people and communities. This social impact study reveals significant issues in health, education, access to services and business. The study found a major problem was the difficulty in accessing Federal income support for farm families and associated small business owners and contractors who rely on agriculture, resulting in significant hardship for families in many small rural communities. Researchers noted that the long-term future of rural communities is compromised not only by drought but by the failure of governments to address social issues facing rural communities.
  • Challenges for Farm Forestry: Exploring the social context of its adoption in New South Wales and Victoria - Dr Digby Race and Professor Allan Curtis 
    For environmental, balance of payments and regional development reasons Australia’s State and Commonwealth governments have policies to increase the area of trees on farms – a move supported by forest industry groups and regional natural resource management and industry development groups. However, the researchers have found that socio-economic problems will need to be addressed if policy objectives are to be reached, especially as governments rely on regional organisations such as Catchment Management Authorities and Private Forestry Development Committees to manage government funds for farm forestry and to encourage community involvement in forestry projects. 
  • Application of a productivity and sustainability framework to irrigation farming -  Professor Kathleen Bowmer, Professor Tony Dunn and Professor Ted Wolfe 
    How farmers have coped with water reform and national resource management developments was the focus of research and discussions over two seasons with irrigation farmers in Coleambally, NSW. The performances of farms were evaluated in this study using measures for productivity, sustainability, stability and equitability. The researchers found that statutory arrangements (such as water sharing and pollution licensing), market forces (commodity prices and water trading), economic incentives for agricultural production and voluntary actions such as Landcare can lead to inconsistent results on farms that were unintended by policy makers.
  • Developing a method to help authorities choose where to start restoring rivers - Dr Robyn Watts and Amy Jansen (CSU) and Scott Wilkinson and Arthur Read (CSIRO Land and Water)
    There is growing interest by communities and governments in improving the physical and ecological conditions of rivers. However, the amount of restoration work required in many water catchment areas far exceeds the resources available. Researchers assessed at sediment supply and the condition of riverbank vegetation to identify priority areas for restoring rivers and water quality in the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management area. The resulting assessment model can also be used to test alternative management actions being used by river catchment land managers before decisions are made.
  • Engaging landholders in biodiversity conservation - Dr Joanne Millar, Professor Allan Curtis and Emily Mendham 
    Researchers found that a decision by a landholder to try a new conservation practice does not always mean it will be adopted and landholder trials often need ongoing support. Where adoption of the practice is slow or uncertain, conservation program managers need to identify and address landholders’ concerns, including their lack of confidence in the recommended practice. The results were based on the establishment of biodiversity conservation by farmers over the past ten years.

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