Managing the world's rivers - improving accountability and transparency

Posted 17 May 2012

Rivers and wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems around the world: report.

Rivers are often the most difficult of natural resources to manage because they extend over thousands of kilometres and involve many stakeholders - but a new international publication aims to provide some of the basic building blocks. Researchers from the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre, UNSW and South African National Parks have developed guidelines for the Strategic Adaptive Management of freshwater ecosystems, including rivers and wetlands.

The new publication supported by International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority aims to provide guidance through the complex task of identifying goals and developing a series of objectives which allow for transparency and accountability in the management of rivers and wetlands.

Lead author, Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre explains: "Rivers and wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems around the world and there is a need to improve our management. Often we are not particularly good at measuring our progress or the effectiveness of our management".

Around the world parts of rivers and wetlands are protected in national parks and reserves where one of the most important factors determining their sustainability is the provision of sufficient water. "We have seen over the years, particularly during dry years that effects of dams and diversions of water have impacted on these ecosystems and their biodiversity" says Kingsford.

Many governments around the world are failing to adequately document the changes to wetlands and implementing appropriate management.

In Australia, the Australian Government has embarked on one of the most important restoration challenges of buying back water for sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin. According to Professor Kingsford: "There is a particularly serious challenge and that is how we show the benefits of this policy in the wetlands and rivers that are most affected. We need to improve the way we document and account for our management. This requires a structured approach such as Strategic Adaptive Management where there is monitoring and learning."

A critical part of effective management will be the combination of delivering additional water and monitoring its effectiveness over time. The publication of Strategic Adaptive Management provides a framework for how this approach may be implemented. It is based on the long-term experience of managers and researchers in Kruger National Park.

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