Securing adequate safe water in rural and remote regional Australia: science and technology verses attitude and behaviour
The provision of sufficient water to meet critical human needs is recognised by United Nations Charter as a basic human right. Primary industry based economic activity and people in regional areas can be imperilled by extreme weather, changing climatic conditions and the adequacy and quality of accessible water supplies from surface flows, shallow and deep aquifers, and rainfall capture from roofs.
Australia wide, little assistance is provided by any level of government to reduce potential health risks from non-scheme water in rural and remote regions. In all Australian jurisdictions, Local Governments have statutory responsibility for the quantity and quality of scheme water in cities and towns only. People on farming and pastoral properties or industrial or tourism sites outside of scheme water are left to their own devices to secure adequate and safe domestic water supplies. This moral inequity is a serious gap in policy and practice.
The 2015 ‘SEGRA Challenge’ responded to this inequity and initiated the Secure Safe Domestic Water project. In collaboration with the Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, water resource and social science research has been undertaken in Etheridge Shire in Far North Queensland and in the Central and Lower Darling and Balranald Shire Council in NSW. This initiative found that science and technology cannot provide the answer to the dilemma. Fundamental changes in attitude and behaviour are required to reduce health risks from inadequate and poor-quality water supplies in rural and remote regions.
Max Finlayson is a wetland ecologist with extensive experience nationally and internationally in the science and management responses to water pollution, mining and agricultural impacts, invasive species, climate change, and human well-being and wetlands.
He has participated in global assessments such as those conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Global Environment Outlook, and Water Management in Agriculture, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Since the early 1990s he has been a technical adviser to the Ramsar Convention. He has been actively involved in environmental NGOs and science organisations and has worked with government, community-based organisations and industry to investigate the causes of ecosystem change and management responses, including restoration and the participation of local communities.