Social Sustainability of a Groundwater Allocation Plan toward the Resolution of an Allocation Dispute between Agricultural and Forest Water Users
Centre for Comparative Water Policies and Laws, University of South Australia
The 140,000 ha pine and bluegums plantations in the South East of South Australia are a major water user through both direct extraction in shallow water tables and rainfall and thus aquifer recharge interception. The land use change induced by the forestry expansion is therefore blamed for significant water table decline in the area. A proposed South Australian legislation plans the introduction of forestry water licensing, converting the water planning process and regulating users? water allocation into a highly disputed process dominated by the forestry debate. The review of the social sustainability of the water allocation planning process offers an in-depth consideration of its interrelated five principles: livelihood or quality of life, fairness, resilience, future focus and community engagement through a longitudinal analysis of the local values of the 5-year long planning period (from June 2004 and still ongoing). These values, collected with local newspaper reports of the issues and conflicts in drafting this regulation and revealed through its qualitative content analysis, enabled thorough examination of the community perceptions around this policy development. The forestry water licensing adversely impacts the long-term forestry employment if other plantations areas do not introduce similar regulations. But it also provides for equity among water users, including the environment. In particular, forestry, in being licensed, is recognized as a water affecting activity equal to other water users. The existing forestry plantations thus get a water license, but could also bear a share of the allocation reductions if any planned to address over-allocation and initially affecting only irrigators. Additionally, the secure water right promoted by the legislation and the formal diversification permitted by the new licensing favor resilience of the local community. However, the planning process itself endured significant pressure from all stakeholders and not only from the community engagement. Especially the difficulty to account for the intricate characteristics of forestry as opposed to irrigation water use level cannot be managed and reduced growth in dry periods still holds the plan adoption up. The social sustainability perspective applied to this groundwater allocation planning process removes some of the contested elements of the forestry water licensing towards a resolution of the dispute.