The challenge – people and water

Without water people cannot live. Yet over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress and this could increase to almost three billion by 2030. As human populations increase and countries industrialise, demand for water increases, whilst water availability can decrease through overuse, pollution and a changing climate. Disputes arise between people at local, national and international levels because lives and livelihoods are threatened when water sources are stressed, not sustainably managed and not shared fairly.

Ensuring that there is enough water of the appropriate quality to support growing populations is a significant challenge for communities and governments across the world. We need to evolve our water management approaches to ensure that existing and future water needs can be met in a rapidly changing climate.
The challenge is particularly acute in our region. The latest update of the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Water Development Outlook released in December 2020 found that:

“Despite the achievements in Asia and the Pacific (home to 60% of the world’s population), 1.5 billion people living in rural areas and 0.6 billion in urban areas still lack adequate water supply and sanitation. Of the 49 Asian Development Bank (ADB) members from Asia and the Pacific, 27 face serious water constraints on economic development, and 18 are yet to sufficiently protect their inhabitants against water-related disasters.”

BasinGuide – a part of the solution

In response to this challenge, Alluvium is proud to have led development of the Australian Water Partnership’s (AWP’s) publication ‘BasinGuide: A Guide to River Basin Planning’, launched online at the International Riversymposium in November 2020.

BasinGuide is intended to assist government and non-government practitioners undertaking river basin planning and management in the Asia and-Pacific region. BasinGuide draws on Australian experience in the Murray-Darling Basin and elsewhere, as well as experience of Australian practitioners working internationally. It is an opportunity and vehicle to share Australia’s experience and contribute to addressing water challenges internationally. It also provides a useful summary for Australian practitioners, stakeholders and early career water managers of the Australia’s experiences, lessons learnt and key principles and stages for non-urban water planning and management.

BasinGuide describes river basin planning in seven stages, each framed by a guiding question (Figure ES1). These can be seen as steps, but are not necessarily consecutive, and all seven need to overlap and iterate to some degree throughout the process.

  1. Initiate — Why do we need to do this and how do we get started? Initiation and visioning;
  2. Ongoing engagement — Who needs to be involved? Engaging stakeholders and the community;
  3. Governance — Who makes decisions and who is responsible for what? Enabling governance, policy and legislation;
  4. Situation assessment — Where are we now? Assessing current status and trends for surface and groundwater;
  5. Plan — How do we plan, consider options and decide strategies? Considering options, strategies, trade-offs and decision making;
  6. Implement — How do we make it happen? Implementation of river basin plans, ongoing management and compliance;
  7. Monitor and evaluate — How do we adapt and learn? Monitoring, evaluation, reporting, adaptive management and learning.

The publication provides guidance on water sharing and allocation, resolving water disputes, improving water quality, inclusive community engagement and involvement, and adapting for climate change. BasinGuide can be applied to any level within a multi-level governance system—from small catchments to large international transboundary river basins. It can used by a range of policymakers and practitioners from all levels of government, as well as by the non-government organisations, communities and stakeholder groups integral to achieving successful outcomes.

BasinGuide is the culmination of a 4 ½ year journey, working initially on a river basin planning guide for India, followed by this guide for a broader international audience. Alluvium led authorship (David Winfield, Simon Tilleard, Tony Weber), working with Access Water Management (David Harriss) and UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (Melita Grant), building on a May 2019 workshop of over 30 experienced practitioners and responding to review by Australian national and state agencies.

May 2019 workshop with 30 Australian and international experts on strategic water planning

The full BasinGuide can be found here and a short version can be found here

Next steps – applying BasinGuide

As outlined in the below table, engagement and application of BasinGuide with partner countries or basins is envisaged through four key steps. Depending on the resourcing and time available, the four steps can be worked through in one meeting with high level attendance from basin stakeholders or over a series of meetings and workshops that engage a range of stakeholders and allow for analysis to be undertaken between meetings.

Engagement and application step Outcome
Gain common understanding of each others experiences Trust and respect developed
Understand basin level drivers and context (current enabling environment) Common understanding of drivers and enabling environment within the basin
Identify basin planning entry points (stages of the BasinGuide) High level action plans to progress where the basin is in its planning cycle
Develop practical interventions to progress basin planning Clearly defined projects that can be delivered to progress basin planning

Following initial application in India we are actively searching for other opportunities for application of the BasinGuide to support basin planning or other water resources management initiatives. We look forward to working with our international and Australian partners on uptake and application of BasinGuide to continue to develop water management and river basin planning and management across Asia and the Pacific.