An Innovative Model for Adaptive Water Sharing to Overcome Scarcity and Meet Environmental Management Targets

Gregor Edeson1,2


1 College of Sciences and Engineering, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

2 Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia; E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



This paper presents a nascent model of collaborative and adaptive water management from Tasmania that has the potential to inform water management practice, and to address key tensions between Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Adaptive Co-Management (ACM). IWRM as practised in Australia limits public participation and its rigid structures reduce its ability to be adaptive, while ACM lacks the accountability and transparency required of natural resource management policy in Australia. The model is proposed as a way to integrate the strengths of IWRM and ACM by increasing the involvement of stakeholders in water management and by creating a mechanism for social learning, innovation and adaptive management. This model is set out as a process flow, and discussed in terms of the complex interrelationships that drive its effectiveness and evolution. An evaluation framework is presented and applied.

Keywords: integrated water resource management; adaptive co-management; climate resilience; system dynamics; evaluation of natural resource management; social learning.

An Innovative Model for Adaptive Water Sharing to Overcome Scarcity and Meet Environmental Management Targets

Water management is critical for the resilience of water dependent communities, and the environments and economies they depend on. The pressures on water management are only expected to increase due to climate change and global population growth (Edeson 2015). Integrated water resource management (IWRM) is viewed as critical to sustainable water management (Hall et al., 2018). Australian IWRM, as implemented through the National Water Initiative, has had strong technical successes in management, but has been less effective at integrating social factors and local knowledge or supporting innovation.

A group of water users in Tasmania, the Ringarooma Water Users Group, has developed and evolved a process for sharing water to minimise the impact of restrictions while meeting environmental management targets.

The approach adopted by the Ringarooma Water Users Group can be represented as a process flow – a series of discrete steps that actors take to collaborate and share water.

This paper sets out the mechanics of the approach as a model and applies an evaluation framework for understanding the effectiveness of the Ringarooma Adaptive Management (RAM) approach.

The paper presents causal loop diagrams to represent a model of how the dynamics of RAM and its components contribute to the effectiveness of RAM, from maintaining streamflow during individual events, to maintaining water security over multiple seasons, through to building community resilience.


A Model for Adaptive Management

RAM is set out as a process flow diagram in Figure 1. The diagram shows an idealised process flow for the Ringarooma Water Users Group's initial approach to adaptive management of irrigation water. It is based on data collected over 13 community meetings in the Ringarooma catchment on Adaptive Management (AM) and the use of real time data from the Sense-T network and interface, together with 63 interviews conducted with all members of the Water Users Group (the representatives of the catchment recognised in the Water Management Plan), community members and with the Regional Water Management Officer and Water Ranger (who enforce the water management rules for the catchment). While the diagram is based on the mechanisms adopted in the Ringarooma, it can be applied as a model in any catchment where water sharing can impact stream flow.

The process flow presents an institutional view of the process of adaptive management – it shows who does what and when. Across the top are the names of the various groups involved. From left to right they are:

  • The project team (CSIRO, UTAS, Sense-T)
  • The interface (the online dashboard/portal that provides information)
  • The Water Users Group (representatives of the catchment recognised in the Water Management Plan)
  • DPIPWE (the regulator)
  • AM leaders (those who contribute water for adaptive management)
  • Other irrigators (the irrigators in the catchment who don't contribute water for adaptive management)

Membership of each of the groups is static, except for the AM leaders and Other irrigators. In any given situation, some water users can be AM leaders by releasing water/varying their take. Participation in the process is voluntary, so the composition of these two groups will change from instance to instance, depending on who is able and willing to contribute water. While there were two members who were highly reliable AM leaders, the composition of the group was observed to change from event to event, depending on factors identified later in this paper.


Figure 1: A process flow for adaptive management, based on the model used in the Ringarooma.


How the Process Flow Diagram Works

The process flow diagram provides an institutional view of water sharing, with swimlanes showing the action taken by each group over the course of water sharing.

In the swimlanes for DPIPWE, the RWUG, AM leaders and Other irrigators there are a series of individual steps (explained below). In the swimlanes for the Project team and the Interface there is one box that extends for the whole length of the process. This is because the project team were not responsible for any of the steps in the AM process; the project team developed and deployed technology, conducted research, communicated and consulted. The interface provided real-time information and forecasting to support each decision, making it difficult to link discrete data outputs to individual steps or decisions in the AM process.

As a process flow chart, Figure 1 represents the process of adaptive management as a series of discrete, linear steps. The reality is that this adaptive management process is much less linear and happens in the context of constant changes in the river, in climatic and economic outlook, and changes in individual circumstances, with most steps based on the judgement of the RWUG regarding water availability and on the input of the regulator's field officers, either by encouraging adaptive actions, facilitating meetings and information sharing, or by declaring restrictions based on stream flow.


The Adaptive Management Process

At its most simple, the process is:

  1. DPIPWE notices that river levels are becoming low and informs irrigators that the adaptive management trigger is approaching or has been met (in case water users aren't already aware through data provided through the Sense-T interface or stream gauge readings on DPIPWE's website),
  2. the RWUG identifies available water for sharing in the catchment and negotiates the timing for the action (either avoided takes or releases from dams)
  3. the RWUG monitors stream flow through the dashboard, monitors water sharing actions through meetings or conversations, and communicates with DPIPWE
  4. DPIPWE monitors river levels and decides whether or not to declare a cease-to-take and, if a cease-to-take is declared, then for how long.

Over the years prior to the summer of 2014-15 there were discussions about how to compensate water users for water sharing. Figure 1 includes a simple and transparent mechanism for recouping shared water, where those who didn't contribute water are placed on restrictions earlier than those who did, allowing AM leaders to recoup some or all of the water they contributed. This needs to be managed for fairness and for environmental impact and may involve placing irrigators who didn't share water on restrictions before the cease-to-take threshold has been reached. This fits within the policy framework and with the practices of the regulator, but there has not yet been a need to test the compensation mechanism because of the reliability of autumn and winter rains. These discussions were not pursued for two reasons: DPIPWE was unwilling to intercede to support compensation and because each time water was shared, stream flow recovered due to rain before compensation became critical (RWMO, 2013, WUGC, 2013, WUGC, 2016)

The AM process starts with the regulator observing that the AM trigger is approaching. The AM trigger is expressed as 15 ML/day above the cease-to-take (CTT) trigger. In reality the start of AM is subjective, depending on the community's perceived need for water sharing and willingness to share water. As AM is a voluntary process in the Water Management Plan, the AM trigger is not enforceable anyway (DPIPWE, 2012).

Once the AM trigger is reached or passed, negotiations to convince individuals or groups to contribute water will commence (if they have not already). If the negotiations succeed, AM starts and the AM leaders go on early, voluntary restrictions (called CTT or cease-to-take in chart). This means they start irrigating from their dams and take the burden of their extractions off the river, or they start releasing water from their dams to boost river levels. At the same time the Other irrigators need to minimise their take to ensure that sufficient water flows through the measuring stations to avoid restrictions.

If the negotiations don't succeed, then AM does not commence and the river levels continue to be monitored.

Depending on how much water is contributed through AM, how much water is extracted, and rainfall, the river levels will either stay above the cease-to-take (CTT) trigger and restrictions will be avoided, or they will drop below CTT and restrictions will be required. At this point there is the possibility of returning to negotiations again in order to ensure enough water is contributed to keep the river above CTT without all users being placed on restrictions. While riskier, these negotiations may be more successful as, at this point, there is no difference to the individual between making their restriction count as AM water and simply going on restrictions. This was observed in the summer of 2015-16, where the community began collaborating early and continued over the summer, due to extremely dry weather which saw the river reaching restriction levels even before the beginning of the irrigation season (DPIPWE 2016b). The way that water allocations are structured in Tasmania provides DPIPWE with the option to place individuals, sub-catchments or an entire catchment on restrictions. This fits within the national water allocation framework for all jurisdictions other than Queensland (which can only reduce allocations at a regional level, rather than at an individual level) (RWMO, 2014, RWMO, 2013, DPIPWE, 2013a, NRW, 2009).

If enforced, restrictions remain in place until river levels recover sufficiently to allow resumption of normal extraction patterns. In Tasmania, discretion for this rests with the Regional Water Management Officer in consultation with DPIPWE's central office. In other jurisdictions it is generally the responsibility of a regional office to announce what water may be taken and when restrictions will start, with provisions contained in catchment water plans.

Negotiation is key to the success of AM. The need for AM coincides with the highest value for water and the time that potential contributors have their highest need for water and lowest security in future access. Convincing a water user to give up some of a high value resource that they own, at a time when it is at its highest value for production and at its least reliable in terms of supply, is no mean feat. In interviews the irrigators who did contribute or who were considering contributing, all identified their willingness to participate as a function of three interrelated factors:

  1. trust between the regulator and the irrigators, and amongst the irrigators that their community will do the right thing;
  2. the individual circumstances of the irrigator (community sentiment, business strength, cropping and irrigation plans, mood on the day, etc.);
  3. the irrigator's confidence that they won't be left short of water later in the season.

When there are periods of extended dry, or where there are multiple overlapping dry irrigation seasons, then this will reduce the water users' ability to participate (due to lower storages, longer periods of low flow, and individual circumstances – factor 2 above), their willingness to participate (due to lack of confidence in future water availability or a weakened business – factor 3 above), and, potentially, their trust that the community will do the right thing (due to greater pressures on water dependent businesses – factor 1 above).

There will, however, be an ever-greater incentive to participate, as participation (if effective) will likely improve access to water by avoiding restrictions. In the summer of 2015-16 there was a shift from the large individual contributions seen in previous years to small contributions from a large number of participants. Participants identified in interviews and at community meetings that the river levels were so low that foregoing some water was seen as a more rational choice as it improved their water security, addressing factors 2 and 3 identified above.

Subsequent interviews identified that the act of participating in AM increased participants' trust in each other, with all interviewees reporting strong and increasing levels of trust with the WUG over the life of the project. This increase in trust is identified as a driver, not just of willingness to participate in individual water sharing events, but also as a key driver of long-term participation and a reduced threshold in WUG members' perception of the need for AM.

It is important to note that the introduction of water markets has been shown to reduce the probability of using social preferences to value water (such as water sharing for community benefit), as ascribing an economic value to water reduces water users willingness to use it for indirect or non-economic benefits, even long after the removal of water markets (Reeson and Tisdell, 2010).


Living Up to Commitments

One of the constraints that the Ringarooma community identified for implementing this model was around monitoring compliance with commitments (WUGC, 2016). The model depends upon water users foregoing water to benefit their community. For this to work, water users need to commit to foregoing water, and then to actually forego that water. This means that monitoring compliance becomes critical, particularly if compensation is available for foregoing water. The mechanisms for monitoring are contentious. Interviewees expressed universal reluctance to share detailed information about water extraction and use patterns. The interviewees identified a desire for privacy, concerns about sharing commercially sensitive information, and a wariness of producing additional information that the regulator could access for compliance and enforcement.


Evaluating the Impact of Adaptive Management for a Community

To evaluate the effectiveness of the framework in any given context, it is necessary to assess the following three levels of effectiveness:

  1. The effectiveness of AM in managing individual low-flow events. This is a short-term question to assess how well the process works in isolation for avoiding cease-to-take triggers.
  2. The impact of AM on maintaining/improving water security and river health. This is a medium-term question about whether the AM process achieves its goal – to allow irrigators to take a greater role in managing their water in a way that maintains or improves water security while maintaining or improving river health. If the impact of the AM process is to achieve water security by placing too great a burden on river health, then it won't be environmentally or socially sustainable and ultimately it will likely be economically unsustainable if decisions are taken to address the social and environmental sustainability of water management.
    This level also encompasses perceived return on investment beyond water security: is the value of water contributed by AM leaders less than the value they receive in return for their contribution? The values in individual use could be a combination of financial capital, social capital, environmental capital, business security or simple satisfaction.
  3. The impact of AM and the regulatory framework and policy settings on innovation, social learning and adaptive capacity amongst the community. This is a long-term question that looks beyond the effectiveness of water management techniques to understand the extent to which this model creates an avenue through which the community can collaborate to improve its resilience and its ability to absorb external shocks and to adapt to internal changes without losing that which makes it a community.

These are set out in Figure 2 below. The framework is based on the Logical Framework Matrix, which identifies evaluation questions, indicators and data sources that can be used to assess effectiveness against different levels of objectives, ranging from operational to strategic outcomes (World Bank u.d.). The figure presents key evaluation questions, or the questions that identify how effective AM is at that level. In the diagram, the questions are accompanied by indicators, which can be used to answer those questions. The figure also identifies data sources that can be used to monitor the indicators. As well as the evaluation logic, Figure 2 also shows the timeframes at which the different levels of outcome can be evaluated.

Community resilience, the outcome proposed as a long-term objective for adaptive management, is a complex and contested area of research (Davidson, 2012, Marini et al., 2018, Hill Clarvis et al., 2014, Hall et al., 2018). The construction used in this paper is that presented in Berkes and Ross (2013), as this is a comprehensive framework that integrates research from a wide field, including social-ecological resilience, community development and psychological resilience (Berkes and Ross, 2013).


Figure 2: Evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness of adaptive management.


Adaptive management and its outcomes are nested in social, economic and environmental systems, each with their own dynamics and drivers. The Logical Framework Matrix and analysis based on the matrix has been criticised as being linear and failing to appreciate complex interrelationships and system dynamics that drive outcomes and determine system behaviour (Williams, 2010). Despite these criticisms, it is still a valuable way for organising and representing evaluative logic (World Bank u.d.). It is difficult to conduct an effective evaluation without an appreciation of the system being evaluated and its internal dynamics. To evaluate the effectiveness of AM against the three outcomes identified above, it is helpful to understand what drives those outcomes and how they relate to each other. This process shows that this is a complex system with causal relationships. Those relationships are mapped out below as causal loop diagrams, to enable analysis and discussion of this representation of the AM framework as a complex and dynamic system. The evaluative logic is set out in a Logical Framework Matrix, but the analysis is conducted using system dynamics approaches to better demonstrate causal relationships and the complexity of the system.

Causal loop diagrams emerge from information systems research and were developed primarily by Jay Forrester as a way of demonstrating feedback between system components, which is a fundamental tenet of systems theory as initially set out by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (Forrester, 2007, Senge, 2006, Meadows, 1974, von Bertalanffy, 1926, von Bertalanffy, 1973). It is an approach applicable to any system where it is helpful to illustrate and understand feedback between system components and dynamic interrelationships (Meadows, 2009, Sherwood, 2002). A significant strength of causal loop diagrams is their ability to integrate quantitative drivers of change (e.g. streamflow) with qualitative drivers of change (e.g. trust or community sentiment) (Sherwood 2002, Senge 2006, Meadows 2009).

As well as using causal loop diagrams to illustrate the structure and dynamics of the system to support effective evaluation, the presence of single, double and triple loop learning are used to assess the extent to which a community can learn socially and facilitate innovation and ingenuity in adaptive management (Maarleveld and Dabgbégnon, 1999, Mostert et al., 2007, Pahl-Wostl and Hare, 2004).

The causal loop diagrams used in this paper have the following parts:

  • Components, the individual parts that make up a system, shown as a box, and
  • Connections, showing a causal relationship between two components, i.e. a change in one changes the state of the other, shown as arrows.


Figure 3: Elements of a causal loop diagram.


In the causal loop diagrams below, connections have three features:

  1. Direction of causality: The arrow on the connection shows which component influences the other. In the example above, stream flow influences access to water.
  2. Polarity (S/O): The polarity shows whether an increase in the first component will create an increase or a decrease in the second component. S stands for Same direction, O stands for opposite direction. In the example above, the greater that streamflow is, then the greater the access to water shall be. In the example below, the higher the value for environmental indicators, then the lower the restrictions will be.
  3. Delayed effect: A double line that intersects the connection. This shows that there is a causal relationship between the two components, but it is not an immediate effect.

In the example below, a decrease in the value for environmental indicators will lead to higher levels of restriction, but only after some time has passed. In this case the delay is due to the need to assess whether the decrease is due to a single event or part of a trend, identify what types of intervention can be introduced within the policy framework, and then a change management process for the intervention.

The shape of the components can be a box, a circle or a hexagon. Hexagons are used to show the main outcome sought for each level. Boxes are used to show components that are affected by other components; these are the majority of components. Circles are used for 'orphans', or components that influence other components but are not driven by other components in the causal loop diagram. These 'orphans' are not static or independent, rather the dynamics that drive them are not considered in this particular construction of the system.


Managing Individual Events (single loop learning)

The drivers and effects of water sharing for managing streamflow are illustrated in Figure 4 below.


Figure 4: Causal loop diagram illustrating the drivers and impacts of adaptive management.


Ultimately the process is driven by the current and expected availability of water (perceived need for AM, rainfall, streamflow, restrictions and trust in the availability of water after water sharing) and the impact that water availability has on businesses and individuals. As described previously, water users will consider sharing if there is a recognised need for water sharing and there is a sense that water sharing will improve their situation rather than worsen it (i.e. they won't give up more water than would recoup or would be without water if the next rains are delayed).

Interviewees identified trust in the community as a significant moderator of the likelihood that individuals will share water, and experience showed over the years, particularly in 2015-16, that trust is increased by successful AM, as it demonstrates that water sharing is a worthwhile investment of their water and effort. By increasing trust in a community, successful AM also reinforces the value of AM.


Managing for Water Security and River Health (double loop learning)

As well as assessing the effectiveness of water sharing for managing an individual event or season, water sharing can have medium-term consequences for water security and river health. This is illustrated in the causal loop diagram below (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Causal loop diagram illustrating the drivers of adaptive management and its impacts on river health. New components are coloured yellow.


The inclusion of river health and water security is relatively simple, at least conceptually. The less streamflow and the hotter it is, the more likely the river is to be under ecological stress. The more ecological stress there is on the river, the more likely environmental indicators are to decline, as will river health. This reduction in river health cannot be seen as a success of AM. As well as impacting on river health, an observed decline in environmental indicators will drive a change in access to water and restriction levels, at least in any management regime that values river health and environmental indicators. This change will impact access to water and thus water security.


Fostering Community Resilience Through Collaboration (triple loop learning)

Beyond water management and impacts on river health, the RAM framework can also be assessed against whether collaboration and knowledge sharing are likely to foster collaboration in other areas faced by the community or participants.

The left part of this causal loop diagram incorporates the non-water impacts of AM. These are most likely to occur where there is clear value to individuals from participating, where there is strong social capital (community connectedness), and strong human capital (knowledge) as well as individual innovation. This diagram shows shocks as having an immediate negative effect on resilience but a long term positive effect, as is a common assumption in much community resilience literature (Berkes and Ross, 2013). This delayed effect is because the positive relationship is moderated by individual innovation and community innovation, which rely on human capital and social capital. This underscores the central message of this model and its value to water dependent communities – shocks are inevitable, be they environmental social, regulatory or economic. The shocks themselves are largely uncontrollable, but the way that individuals and the community respond determines the immediate and long-term impact of the shock. The responses that are chosen may even create a net benefit for the community.

These diagrams illustrate that one of the most critical aspects influencing the long-term viability of this framework is that it continue to deliver value for individuals. This value is what connects water security to membership and participation in collaborative management.

Outside of analysing relationships in the diagram, increased participation can greatly improve the impact of AM making more water available for AM (more participants means more sources of water to contribute and fewer non-participants who can disrupt achieving results) and increase trust in community as it creates a common bond between participants. It also increases the legitimacy of the AM group and makes it harder for the regulator to override their management, provided the water users operate within the bounds of the regulatory framework.


Figure 6: The drivers and effects of collaborative adaptive management on community resilience. New components are coloured orange.


One of the key ways to improve membership is to demonstrate the effectiveness of AM and to improve water security and river health. This risks, however, creating an expectation by some that they will receive a benefit without having to invest their own resources.

This was observed in the Ringarooma, where the bulk of the community were participating either by releasing water or by reducing and coordinating their takes to maintain river levels, but two water users continued to extract water outside of the approaches agreed to by the rest of the community. These individuals decreased the effectiveness of water sharing and risked putting the entire river on restrictions. In that instance the regulator did not intervene but the regulator could have recognised the efforts of the community by using its authority to restrict the individual users who were not acting in line with the rest of the community (WUGC, 2016). The individuals did not consent to being interviewed, but were identified by 6 other interviewees as water users who had a tendency to prioritise individual benefit over community access to water in previous periods of water shortage. Achieving 100% consensus for collaborative action is a high bar to meet – the WUG had achieved active or passive participation from all water users in the catchment, except for these two individuals. The regulator already played an active and often nuanced role in placing some reaches of the river on restriction to avoid whole-of-catchment restrictions (RWMO, 2013). This approach could have been extended to support AM without stepping outside the bounds of policy, practice or community expectations.


Application of the Evaluation Framework to Ringarooma Adaptive Management

Level 1: Managing Endividual Events

RAM was successful in managing individual low flow events over four summers during the period of observation (2013-2016). The use of the model avoided restrictions over many summers. The regulator estimated that the use of water sharing in the Ringarooma made an extra 500 ML (DPIPWE, 2016a) of water available during the summer of 2015-16, which was the driest period on record in this region of Tasmania (DPIPWE, 2016a).

The different approaches to managing water scarcity were all effective at managing individual flow events. Participants demonstrated single loop learning, assimilating water information and following directions on how to manage water (in this case the directions came from the RWUG).


Level 2: Managing for Water Security and River Health

At a community level, RAM improved water security. As noted in level 1, access to water was maintained for longer than would have been the case under business as usual, across multiple summers.

At an individual level, the results are less clear. One of the main originators of the process contributed far more water than they received in return. While there was always a reliable water source (they have access to two irrigation schemes as well as sizable on farm storage), this was more risk than any other community member experienced and came at considerable effort and foregone value of water. In the causal loop diagram the value to the individual is a key moderator of continued participation, and it is unclear how long this individual's efforts will continue providing value to that individual, and how this will reduce their motivation to remain active in the RWUG.

In terms of river health, there had been a long-term decline in ecological indicators for the river (DPIPWE, 2014). It was not expected that the use of RAM alone would maintain or improve river health. RAM stretched out the periods over which the river was on the cusp of restrictions, or just above the flow levels the regulator has determined to be environmentally damaging. The long-term decline in ecological indicators was attributed to overuse of water placing the river under stress (DPIPWE, 2014, RWMO, 2013, RWMO, 2014, Nicholls, 2015). The project team expected this prolonged stress was expected to exacerbate the long-term decline in environmental indicators seen in the river (Sense-T, 2014). While there is significant debate, particularly amongst the local community, about attribution of the drivers of the observed decline, the end result (ecological decline) is the same and further stressing the river will not improve its condition. There have been discussions within the community and with the research team about how to improve environmental indicators without affecting access to water, but as yet there are no concrete plans. Despite these concerns, recent monitoring results show an arrest in the decline of environmental indicators, and even a potential improvement over the last year (Cleary et al. 2018) These results are for an individual year, meaning it is too early to assess whether or not they are within the bounds of natural variation or indicate a recovery in ecological indicators for the river. If this trend is maintained or improved then it will show, at the very least, that RAM is no worse for ecological indicators than standard water management under the water management plan, and possibly no worse than performance under previous water management policy regimes.

Unfortunately, water management plans only manage water; they don't manage the whole of the landscape. This means that some of the stressors on the river, such as land use and land management, are not influenced by the water management plan, but water users become accountable if the effects of those stressors show up in the environmental indicators measured for river management.

AM is only used when the river is already under stress and approaching restrictions. This presents difficulties for quantifying whether there is additional damage caused by the river being stressed. The introduction of AM in the Ringarooma coincided with the construction of a new irrigation dam, meaning that water was withheld from the river over a period to fill the dam, followed by increased baseflow over the irrigation season as dam water was provided as a constant flow over that season, but only taken when needed. Further, there has been a shift in the crops grown and thus in watering patterns and soils management, as well as slight intensification of cattle herds by some farmers.

This means that RAM has been only partially successful in the short to medium term, with improved community water security, reduced individual water security for some, and unclear impacts on river health. Given that declining environmental indicators have already been proposed as a justification for raising the cease-to-take threshold (thus increasing the frequency of restrictions), it is unclear what effect RAM will have on water security over the medium term, and whether water sharing provides a greater benefit to water security than the negative consequences of reduced access to water due to any environmental decline. It is hard to determine whether AM will have hastened the introduction of new restriction levels through a raised cease-to-take threshold, or whether they would have been introduced anyway in the same way and timing.

One clear benefit of RAM is that it provides a framework to collaborate to overcome water scarcity, whether it is caused by environmental factors such as lack of rainfall, or by policy changes, such as raised cease-to-take thresholds.

Participants showed clear double loop learning, taking the original approach to adaptive management and adapting it and trialling new approaches to improve water management outcomes through water sharing.


Level 3. Fostering Resilience Through Collaboration

It is too early to assess what the long-term impacts of RAM on community resilience are likely to be, but initial indications are positive. The community has developed a number of innovative proposals and projects during the time that RAM has been in place, such as a regional power generation scheme, and they have begun building a community owned and operated irrigation dam that will also be used for RAM.

These innovations show triple loop learning, as the knowledge developed through RAM is adapted and applied to other situations.

During the extreme summer of 2015-16, most of the community came together to work towards a common solution, rather than operating individually to maximise their own benefits, as posited by Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons theory (Hardin, 1968). RAM evolved from a willingness to cooperatively manage a common pool resource for community outcomes. The gradual recruitment of more participants shows that a combination of altruism, enlightened self-interest and pragmatism has fostered collaboration to overcome adversity, which is identified as a critical aspect of a resilient community.

It is difficult to determine whether RAM and the level of collaboration it has required has been a generator of community innovation, or whether the development of RAM is an attribute of the Ringarooma community. Interviewees from the community, the WUG and the regulator presented different explanations, and this project did not find enough depth of information on innovation and altruism in water management in comparable catchments to determine this. As the causal loop diagrams illustrate, successful collaboration can theoretically build social capital, allowing individual innovation to contribute to community-level innovation, which in turn builds the human capital/knowledge available for further innovation. RAM has been successful in fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing to spur further innovation, meaning the signs are positive for its contribution to community resilience in a wider sense.


Funding Details

This work was supported by Sense-T, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Natural Resources Management North, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment, and the Ringarooma Water Users Group. Sense-T is a partnership between the University of Tasmania, the Commonwealth Scientific and the Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government.


Disclosure Statement

The author is currently employed by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, and recently drafted amendments to the Water Act 2000 and Water Regulation 2016. The author previously worked for the Tasmanian State Government, including monitoring investment in irrigation infrastructure for the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts, and in the Tasmanian Climate Change Office, which oversees climate adaptation initiatives for the government. The author previously worked in water planning and allocation for the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water.



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Nicholls, D. (2015). Interview with David Nicholls, Manager of Water Policy, DPIPWE.

NRW (2009). Condamine and Balonne resource operations plan consultation report M. a. E. Department of Natural Resources and Water (now Department of Natural Resources.

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RWMO (2013). Interview with the regulator's Regional Water Management Officer responsible for overseeing and coordinating Ringarooma Adaptive Management.

RWMO (2014). Public meeting on water planning and river condition at Ringarooma War Memorial hall. R. c. c. members.

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WUGC (2013). Interview with Chair of the Ringarooma Water Users Group.

WUGC (2016). Interview with Chair of the Ringarooma Water users Group.