Australia’s inland waters support globally significant biodiversity and are vitally important for agriculture, industry and communities. Yet everything we do in and around water catchments can impact and potentially degrade wetlands and the flora and fauna that rely on water flows. To conserve the environment, we need to prioritise conserving inland waters: they are home to the greatest number of threatened species and ecological communities (per unitarea) and provide us with access to freshwater, which is fundamental to our survival.
How we manage and govern this precious resource is critical. It is also complex, and every person, industry and government in a water catchment has a role to play in sound stewardship. According to the Australia State of the Environment 2016 report, current inland water management approaches are having some success, however, some promising government programs have not been effectively implemented while threats to conservation are rapidly evolving. Management approaches must also evolve, including in response to climate change impacts, which are already affecting water volumes and water quality.
Despite these challenges, there is cause for optimism. In places as diverse as the Lake Eyre Basin, south-east Queensland and Victoria, regional-scale programs are bringing governments and the community together to better conserve catchments. From the Fitzroy to the Murrumbidgee rivers, Indigenous nations are reasserting their stewardship roles for sustainable catchment management. Innovative non-government initiatives to acquire wetlands and water, and manage them for conservation, are demonstrating better ways of conserving wetlands. More data and scientific knowledge are available to help governments and the community to better manage water for wetlands. The Australian National Water Initiative reforms from earlier this century provide sound principles for implementing sustainable management into the future.
Many Australians value their rivers, lakes and other wetlands, and with philanthropic support can be mobilised to improve conservation of these ecosystems for people and nature.Practical solutions range from planting trees along stream corridors, removing barriers to fish migration and supporting those who manage high-conservation-value inland water systems, to setting up innovative financing mechanisms to conserve inland waters independent of government. Importantly, the philanthropic sector has an opportunity to play a strategic role — particularly at a regional level — by funding initiatives that bring different stakeholders together to contribute local knowledge and practical experience, and enhance their capacities to sustainably govern inland waters.