Water citizenship: advancing community involvement in water governance

The focus of this report is the involvement of the community in decision-making processes about the use, management or regulation of water resources and water ecosystems. These are community organisations with an environmental emphasis and Aboriginal community interests.

We refer to the capacity of communities to participate in and control decision-making regarding water resources as ‘water citizenship’. Water citizenship is a powerful overarching concept that, at its most general level, includes important procedural aspects such as public consultation about water resources, community participation in water planning, the capacity to challenge decisions or failures to take actions or make decisions, and the capacity to have the law enforced and breaches of the law remedied.

For communities, their local associations, identities, knowledge and cultural signifiers can be crucial to engagement with water. People are more likely to be involved, interested and passionate about issues that affect water ecosystems in places that are important to them – where they live, work, rejuvenate, have family history and so on – than an abstract concept of water as a ‘resource’. A key proposition of this report is that to foster community engagement in water ecosystem protection, the governance of water resources and ecosystems should be guided by the lens of ‘place’, through which communities frequently view those resources and ecosystems. Part of the recommendations (or ‘opportunities’) identified in this report is for governments and communities to consider how ‘place’ – whether a river, catchment, wetland, lake, or other – can inform and shape legal and practical measures capable of empowering communities in decision-making and management processes.

This report draws together ideas, views, experiences and reflections on how the governance of water resources presently works in Victoria and how it might be improved. This report finds that governance is less than optimal and looks at how it may be improved for engaged citizens who seek to participate in public decision-making and who seek to use the law to protect and restore water ecosystems and, from the Aboriginal perspective, Country.

This report begins to develop concepts to inform practical and law reform programs, guiding public interest advocacy and innovation in community participation in decision-making. Proposals to foster water citizenship include:

  • development of capacity-building programs among community organisations;
  • legislative reform to better recognise and to facilitate Aboriginal water rights and interests;
  • innovation in procedural environmental law as applied to the management and governance of water resources;
  • exploration of ‘water trust’ models of public interest community ownership and control of water resources for ecological purposes or for Aboriginal cultural purposes or both; and
  • emphasis on socio-ecological governance based on river, wetland, catchment or sub-catchment management scale as appropriate (a so-called ‘law of the river’ approach).

View report Water citizenship – Advancing community involvement in water governance in Victoria

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