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Water Resource Management

When it comes to the precious resource of water, we know that land, water and people cannot be separated. The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance’s Indigenous Water Program – funded by the National Water Commission – is working towards the sustainable management and development of north Australia’s land and water resources.

Why is this important?

For hundreds of generations, Indigenous people have managed their water resources so they have clean and abundant water for health, culture, social and economic well-being. Today’s Australians have inherited their legacy.

Today, 60% of Australia’s freshwater runoff occurs in Australia's north, Indigenous people own over 40% of north Australia and have interests in well over 80% of the region. Predictions are that the impacts of global warming will impact most northern Indigenous communities that live near the rivers or the coast. The Indigenous population is rapidly increasing in this region and so are pressures on Indigenous people to make decisions on the exploitation or use of their country and its resources.

The National Water Initiative is the Australian Government’s plan for national water reform. It has significant implications for future Indigenous land and sea management.

Why are we involved?

Given these facts, NAILSMA has an obligation to help protect this precious resource with Traditional Owners. Water is of enormous economic, cultural and spiritual significance to many Indigenous communities who retain and exercise ancestral rights, obligations and laws regarding water resources, use and management.

‘Land, water and Indigenous people are intrinsically entwined’.

Mary River Statement 2009

Water rights are essential to the livelihoods of Indigenous people in remote areas of north Australia. A key aspect of our work is to ensure that Indigenous people are fundamental to any water reform in northern Australia, including the management, research, and planning associated with the use of water. This is vital because water use disrupts the connection between surface and ground water and can have a impact on sites that are important to Indigenous people.

We are playing a lead role in ensuring that:

  • skills, knowledge and experiences are shared across the region;
  • knowledge and capacity for effective sustainable use and management of water resources is in place across north Australia; and
  • lessons from poor planning in other parts of Australia should be taken into account when considering development of northern rivers, some of the least impacted in Australia and the world.

Working in partnership

Over the years we have worked in partnership on various water related research projects including the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) since its inception, and during its Synthesis and Adoption Year. We are also working with the federally funded Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment through its Cultural and Social Program. This program aims to improve understanding of the community, cultural, spiritual, recreational and economic values of north Australia’s water resources and aquatic ecosystems.

‘It is comforting to see the NT Government here today listening to the concerns we have about water in the Oolloo aquifer. It is crucial that the NT Government continues to listen to Traditional Owners and ensure that our interests and concerns are addressed in the Draft Oolloo Water Allocation Plan.‘

 Mona Liddy, Wagiman Traditional Owner. 

The knowledge gained through these programs is informing other agendas, such as the recently convened Indigenous Experts Forum on Sustainable Economic Development to consider a future strategic northern framework.

We also participate in and deliver forums, such as a series of community water planning meetings (2011-12) and further Indigenous Experts Forums (2012-2013). Forums allow Indigenous people to come together to share experiences, but importantly develop ways to guide sustainable use of land and waters for future generations.

Water Resource Management Program

Since 2006, our Water Program has increased awareness of the value of Indigenous management of water resources and the need for proper Indigenous participation in water planning and management.

The Program has three main areas of focus: community, policy and research.

  1. We coordinated an Indigenous Community Water Facilitator Network across north Australia – in Cape York, the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Daly River catchment and the Kimberley through partnering organisations.
  2. Combining recommendations from this network and the successful Indigenous water forum at Mary River, the Indigenous Water Policy Group developed a comprehensive Indigenous Water Policy Statement that guides our interactions with policy makers.
  3. Our effort includes collaborating with researchers and government agencies and university partners to identify gaps in knowledge that might prevent positive discussions and progress towards engagement of Indigenous people in water planning and management.

The water program furthers the National Water Initiative – the Australian Government’s plan for national water reform that requires State and Territory governments to include the concerns and aspirations of Indigenous people in water planning.

Video stories from some of our participants

Linda McLachlan reflects on the Wenlock Catchment Water Planning meeting

Brendan Wheeler reflects on the Wenlock Catchment Water Planning meeting

Jeremy Wilson reflects on the value of CLCAC Water Forum, Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, Qld. 

Financial support to build the momentum

For many regions in north Australia, water is the highest management priority. We are currently seeking financial support for the Indigenous Community Water Facilitator Network to keep the momentum growing across north Australia for Indigenous water planning.Your support will help keep ‘water planning’ growing across north Australia.

Want to know more about our Water Program?

Go to the Water Resource Management Program on the Information Hub.

Find out how to: