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The regulation of groundwater extraction has shifted, almost seismically, through Australia’s water reform era, which culminated in the National Water Initiative and the federal Water Act 2007 (Cth). Its starting point was minimal regulation, targeted at controlling selected extractions and pursuing sustainability for consumptive purposes. Since then, groundwater laws have imported regulatory concepts from the surface water sphere; among them, regulating extraction through statutory plans and in a broad-based way, and protecting dependent ecosystems. One issue emerges at the heart of both the history and future of groundwater reform: dealing with the cumulative impacts of extraction. This chapter reviews how groundwater reforms in Australia have approached cumulative impacts—albeit often implicitly rather than explicitly—measured against concepts of cumulative impact assessment derived from the scientific environmental assessment literature. It finds that both regulatory and non-regulatory, incentive-based measures have been used. As water reforms have progressed, arrangements for assessing and managing the cumulative impacts of groundwater extraction have taken a dramatically broader view of potentially affected natural systems, as well as consumptive values. However, they have not focused significantly on the implications of connections between natural systems. Reforms have also resulted in a much broader view of the impacting activities that are relevant to an assessment of cumulative impacts, though often with an unclear temporal scope. Remaining weaknesses in approaches to managing cumulative impacts and a lack of empirical evidence as to the effectiveness of existing measures warrant attention. The chapter concludes by charting key challenges that remain for resolution, and setting out an accompanying research and reform agenda.
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- Regulating Cumulative Impacts in Groundwater Systems: Global Lessons from the Australian Experience
Rebecca Louise Nelson
- Springer Singapore
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