This senate report looks at the impact on rural water usage of recent water policy initiatives and the possible role for Commonwealth agencies, with particular reference to: the development of water property titles; methods of protection for rivers and aquifers; farming innovation; monitoring drought and predicting farm water demand; and the implications for agriculture of predicted changes in patterns of precipitation and temperature.

Managing our water resources is a difficult balancing act. We are a growing nation living on a dry continent with extremely variable rainfall patterns, and recent years have brought water supply security problems to our agricultural industries, major rural centres and a number of our cities. The challenge for policy makers is how to best balance competing demands for a limited precious resource in a manner that ensures the sustainability of the resource, equity among competing users, predictability and security of supply for our industries and populations, and still guarantees the survival of treasured environmental assets. The issue is made more difficult by the complexity and uncertainty of the science of assessing the resource, and predicting the impacts of drought and increased climate variability. Ultimately we need to be able to make good decisions on the basis of the available information knowing that we cannot predict the future. We need flexible and adaptable water management systems that can deliver equity and certainty to all users. At stake is the viability of our cities and towns, our industries and our ecosystems, our very way of life.

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