With dams running low, years of below average rainfall and demand for water growing, Watermark Australia was a timely and innovative response to an urgent policy problem. Australia has historically lent heavily upon rivers to satisfy growing human demand for water. Fresh water shortages were ‘fixed’ with engineering solutions – a new dam or pipeline.
Published in 2007, Watermark Australia re-framed the debate around water, emphasizing the social, cultural and environmental context of water use.
Watermark was built upon trust in the wisdom of ordinary people and their ability to learn in the company of others. The Victorian Women’s Trust led the project, developing an innovative ‘kitchen table’ methodology to engage the community in discussing water. Hundreds of volunteer Group Conveners held meetings with people in their social network and their thoughts and conclusions were reported to the project team. Land and water scientists provided their expertise for free. The results of these deliberations was documented in the Our Water Mark report.
The Watermark project had a significant impact on the water policy development under the Victorian Bracks and Brumby Governments, leading to greater consideration of water efficiency as a viable policy solution. People who had participated in the project became involved in the water debate, challenging the need for expensive water infrastructure to solve the state’s water woes.
The 2009 Final Report of the State Parliamentary Committee inquiring into sustainable water use for Melbourne adopted the definition of water efficiency as advocated by Watermark:
Real water efficiency is reached when we significantly reduce the volumes of potable water and when we use all available water (rainwater, storm-water, treated waste water) again, and again, before we finally discharge it.
Women played a crucial role in the success of Watermark, both as the majority of donors to the project and through the enormous voluntary efforts of women who acted as Group Conveners.
The Watermark approach highlighted the power of collaboration and community deliberation as a means to find solutions to complex and seemingly intractable issues.
We had the privilege of interviewing June Oscar AO, a Bunuba Woman from the Central Kimberley Region and one of Australia’s great Indigenous leaders. She is joint CEO of the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy River Women’s Centre where she has played a key role in uncovering and addressing the extraordinarily high number of children afflicted by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
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