Groundwater-management plans — how well will they work?

Water management is under increased scrutiny in Australia after an algal bloom in the Darling River led to mass fish deaths (see Nature http://doi.org/gftd4p; 2019, and Nature http://doi.org/gft49x; 2019). Although surface water has long been managed in Australia, groundwater regulation was relatively overlooked until the 1990s. Only in the past 15 years have extensive water reforms that include mandatory plans been achieved. Even relatively simple groundwater-management strategies can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so methods to evaluate their effectiveness need to be incorporated into the planning process.

In Australia’s Murray–Darling Basin, water-resource plans must be accredited by the middle of this year (see go.nature.com/2n3joro). Under the Californian Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, stakeholders have until 2022 to create and implement plans for groundwater sustainability (see go.nature.com/2e77uwv). And the European Water Framework Directive stipulates that groundwater be included in plans for managing river basins (see go.nature.com/2xofmoj).

Multidisciplinary collaboration, careful navigation of political currents and stakeholder consultation are all crucial to successfully formulating such plans. Testing their effectiveness is challenging, but could include the use of modelling to see how various strategies perform under pressure, such as when competition for groundwater is intense (E. K. White et al. Water Resources Res. 52, 4863–4882; 2016).

Nature 566, 326 (2019)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-00620-0


Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing