International Annual UN-Water Zaragoza Conference 2012/2013
Preparing for the 2013 International Year. Water Cooperation: Making it Happen! 8-10 January 2013

Reconciling water security and historical injustice at Lake Victoria in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin

This case study examines the successful resolution of an eight year conflict between water management agencies (and the various stakeholders that benefit from water extractions) and Aboriginal or Indigenous people in the region of Lake Victoria, one of the major storages in the southern section of the Murray Darling Basin.

In 1994 the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (now authority) emptied the storage in order to undertake repairs for the first time since the original natural lake on that site was enlarged in the 1920s. This revealed many exposed graves in the bed of the lake. The regional Aboriginal community immediately demanded that the storage be permanently decommissioned so that the graves could be treated with appropriate respect. Against these demands the water agencies backed by their state governments argued that this was an essential storage for the operation of the water distribution agreement between the southern states, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. The resulting controversy took the storage offline for eight years and caused severe dislocation. In earlier decades the Aboriginal demands would have been ignored but in the changed political climate of the 1990s that was not possible. Eventually through the use of facilitators and the influence of the wider political context a new management plan was negotiated that achieved most of the water management objectives of the previous operating system but which also satisfied Aboriginal concerns and provided environmental benefits.

Prepared by Dr Daniel Connell - Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University