Groundwater governance in Australia, the European union and the western usa

Andrew Ross*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Groundwater governance can be defined as the system of formal and informal rules, rule-making systems and actor networks at all levels of society that are set up to steer societies towards the control, protection and socially acceptable utilization of groundwater resources and aquifer systems. Groundwater resources are very diverse and groundwater governance is complicated by the common pool nature of most groundwater resources, information gaps, and the diversity of stakeholders and their interests. There are few comparative studies of groundwater governance. This chapter contributes to that literature by means of a high level comparison of groundwater governance in Australia, the European Union and the Western USA. The comparison is structured using the five categories of governance issues defined in the Earth System Governance Project; architecture, access and allocation, accountability, adaptiveness, and agency - defined in this case as management organisation. The EU WFD has gone furthest towards an integrated framework to manage groundwater quantity and quality objectives, but there are many implementation challenges. Australia’s system of annually adjustable water entitlements and related water markets provides security, efficiency and flexibility but it is not yet clear how successfully environmental water allocations can be integrated within this framework. The system of prior appropriation in the Western US provides clearly defined priorities for water allocation, but lacks flexibility during extreme droughts. Fully integrated groundwater management, as intended by the WFD, is a very ambitious goal. The advantages of a strong central direction and coordination together with decentralised local management could be obtained througha decentralised system of collaborative planning and management at sub-basin scales nested within an overarching groundwater planning framework at the jurisdictional or basin scale. This system could take various forms in different countries depending on social preferences and institutional settings and capacity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIntegrated Groundwater Management
    Subtitle of host publicationConcepts, Approaches and Challenges
    PublisherSpringer International Publishing
    Number of pages27
    ISBN (Electronic)9783319235769
    ISBN (Print)9783319235752
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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