Getting the river environment off welfare benefits

Monday, 08 October, 2007

Applying a proper business approach to environmental flows and freeing up the rules for private ownership and management could play a key role in ensuring the long-term ecological sustainability of Australian rivers, according to Professor Gary Jones, CEO of eWater Cooperative Research Centre.

Jones believes if governments continue to free up water trading markets there are real opportunities to stimulate significant private investment in environmental flows. Coupled with a more business-like approach to environmental stewardship, this could see huge gains for river ecosystems, something that is still eluding us in many rivers today.

"It is time to start thinking of the river environment as a business," said Jones.

"A business that must operate on the same basis as irrigators, mining companies and power stations, raising its own investment funds and learning to be an efficient user of water. It is not a special case dependent solely on public handouts and public-sector management for survival.

"Allowing direct ownership of environmental water by private citizens and freeing up the rules for its use could change all this, with the dividend for investors being healthy populations of fish, frogs and birds.

"This is not about letting governments off the hook on environmental management. It is about increasing the pool of investment funds available for the environment and letting private citizens have a go at managing wetlands and river reaches too."

Jones said these ideas were stimulated by the growing market for carbon offsets, which allows people to invest in the health of the global environment by purchasing credits that fund green energy sources or new trees to soak up carbon.

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