The Risks of Aquifer

Dr Emily Mendham and Prof Allan Curtis - Charles Sturt University

Type: Research Paper, Case Study
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This study suggests that those seeking to effectively engage rural landholders in dialogue about groundwater governance need to be aware of the importance of a pro-farming business mindset, including a relatively higher priority given to economic over environmental values and a strong belief in the sanctity of private property rights

What lies beneath: rural landholder interpretation

What is the problem?

Risks associated with the management of groundwater in farming landscapes are at the forefront of public discourse in Australia and North America.

There has been very little social research examining rural landholder attitudes to groundwater use and management.

This is an important gap given the critical role social acceptability plays in resource access decisions, the important role groundwater plays in sustaining livelihoods, and the vital role it plays in maintaining groundwater dependent ecosystems.

What did the research involve?

This paper attempts to address that gap by exploring how rural landholders interpret risks associated with groundwater use for irrigated agriculture.

They do that by using a case study from south eastern Australia where farmers’ livelihoods are increasingly dependent on groundwater.

They draw upon spatially referenced survey data to investigate the general extent and nature of concern about risk associated with pumping groundwater.

They also explore the factors influencing risk interpretation, including occupational identity and proximity to the aquifer.

What were the key findings?

Survey results suggest that while there is concern about pumping groundwater for irrigated agriculture in the Wimmera region, there is also considerable confidence that negative outcomes can be avoided.

The dimension of risk of most concern to respondents was the possibility that the benefits of pumping groundwater would not be shared equitably.

Final Comment

The survey data suggest that focusing on the economic implications of declining water tables would be an effective way of engaging these rural landholders in dialogue about the sustainability of their groundwater resource

Effective dialogue should focus on the economic implications of any degradation of the aquifer, but this group is also likely to be receptive to information about the environmental impacts of the exploitation of a community resource.

Australia - Dr Emily Mendham and Prof Allan Curtis - Charles Sturt University
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