Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin

By Kevin Parton.

Published by The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability: Annual Review

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The objective of this paper is to examine the trade-offs between economic, social, and environmental objectives of increased environmental flows of water in the Murray-Darling system (Australia’s largest river system). The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has proposed a transfer of between 3,000 ML and 6,700 ML from irrigation to environmental flows. Many farmers consider the costs of even the smallest transfer to be prohibitive, while many conservationists regard even the largest transfer as insufficient to capture any significant environmental benefits. The paper examines published work to shed light on the nature of the trade-offs involved in this proposed transfer of water to the environment. Preliminary work indicates a number of hypotheses that are worthy of further examination. First, several estimates suggest that the costs to farming will be small as long as irrigation water is purchased at its full market value. Second, there appeared to be significant thresholds of environmental water flows which would be required to capture any worthwhile environmental benefits. Third, under various proposed compensation schemes, communities overall in the Murray-Darling Basin may benefit (rather than lose) from transfers of water within the above range. Fourth, there would be some losers from the transfer, especially those dependent on irrigated agriculture who have no irrigation entitlements. This would include local businesses supplying services to irrigated agriculture. These are the key issues examined in the paper.

Keywords: Sustainability, Environmental Flows, Australia, Irrigation, Agriculture, Regional Impact

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability: Annual Review, Volume 8, 2012, pp.29-43. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 932.335KB).

Prof. Kevin Parton

Research Professor, School of Business , Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Orange, NSW, Australia

Professor Kevin Parton has 35 years of teaching, research, research management and research training experience in a range of organisations including universities, Australian and Canadian government agencies, and international research organisations. He has completed research projects in the EU, Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, Kenya, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea. In 1992 he won the Sir John Crawford Award for extension of research methods in agricultural research institutes in Papua New Guinea. Professor Parton has published over 100 internationally refereed journal articles. He has research interests in both agricultural and health economics. He has held positions of director of a centre for health research and development, head of school, and dean of faculty. He is now a research professor in the Institute for Land, Water and Society. He teaches courses in risk management and his current major research interests are in the economics of climate change policy, and social and health aspects of adaptation to climate change. Professor Parton is a Fellow of the Australian Farm Business Management Network and editor of the Australian Farm Business Management Journal.