Water does not recognise political boundaries. Almost all countries of the world (that are not island states) share rivers, lakes, groundwater or wetlands. Indeed in many cases, rivers and lakes form the border between countries. Just as importantly, water bodies crossing within-country provincial or state boundaries, as in the case of the Murray-Darling Basin, can give rise to disagreements in the ways water is shared and used. Even at a local scale, water systems often run across the territories of different cultural or ethnic groups, where demands from livestock and arable farmers may conflict with the needs of communities or water intensive industries. In the case of the Murray-Darling Basin, the situation of multiple demands is intense. Not only is the basin the traditional food bowl for the Nation, it is also the source of water supplies for hundreds of municipalities and regional centres, as well as providing for the demands of the 1.3 million people who live outside the basin in the nearby city of Adelaide. As a result of the complexity of river basin management, the idea of Integrated Water Resources Management has been something that many governments (including Australia) have been committed to for many years, and indeed, Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin has long been held up as a key example for others to follow. Recent pressures within that basin however have given rise to a wide variety of disputes around the way water is allocated, and attempts to develop an effective integrated plan have not been as successful as previously hoped. In this paper, the challenges of managing transboundary basins are examined, putting the debate around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan into a global context.
Sullivan, CA in press, 'Planning for the Murray-Darling Basin: lessons from transboundary basins around the world', Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment.