This practical guide is an Australian contribution to the work of the High-Level Panel on Water (HLPW), of which Australia is a member. The HLPW was established in 2016 to ‘mobilize effective action to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and its related targets’. SDG 6 seeks to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. The effective management of water for the environment is relevant to many of the HLPW’s thematic areas of interest and activity: ‘Water and the Environment’; ‘Resilient Economies and Societies’; ‘Water Infrastructure and Investment’; ‘Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements’; and ‘Universal Access to Safe Water and Sanitation’.

This guide offers practical advice for countries seeking to improve management of water for the environment within an SDG timeframe (i.e. by 2030). It describes common challenges and draws on Australian and international experiences in designing and implementing solutions. The guide focuses on improving management of water for the environment where there are competing demands for water, rather than in settings where there is an abundance of water. In many countries, the water demands of agriculture, industry, towns and cities are increasing year on year. As pressure on existing resources and the natural environment increases, water allocation and use decisions must acknowledge the fundamental importance of water for the environment as the basis for system health. Without system health being maintained, water-dependent values are unable to be sustained. Water policy and management settings should be designed, implemented and monitored to sustain surface and groundwater system health into the future.

This guide has been developed as a companion piece to two of Australia’s previous contributions to the work of the HLPW: Valuing Water (Aither 2016) and WaterGuide: Setting a path to improved water management and use under scarcity (Aither 2018). The WaterGuide framework is designed to help decision makers improve outcomes from the management of scarce water resources, including by understanding and communicating the value of water. This guide reflects the six-element structure of WaterGuide, transforming and applying it in the context of determining and sustaining the health of surface and groundwater systems. Australia anticipates that the practical guidance offered in the pages of this document may assist decision makers grappling with the inherent complexity of managing water for the environment.

Download 'A Guide to Managing Water for the Environment'

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