Podcast: Craig Knowles, Murray-Darling Basin Authority

January 7, 2014

I’m kicking off 2015 with a bang: a brand new episode of my podcast, freshwater Talk, featuring guest Craig Knowles. Craig has been the Chairman of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Authority since 2011 and has helped rework the balance of water for an entire economy.

To understand Craig’s role and impact over the past four years, you have to understand the importance of the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia. The Murray-Darling Basin is one of the largest rivers systems in the world – located on the driest inhabited continent on the planet. It is Australia’s most iconic river system, covering an area of more than 1 million square kilometers (for context that is larger than France and Germany combined). It is home to more than 2 million people, and provides drinking water for more than 3 million across hundreds of rural and urban communities. Referred to as Australia’s food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia’s most productive food/fiber regions, providing about $15 billion worth of produce to the economy annually.

The mid and late 1990s brought the worst recorded drought since settlement to Australia, referred to as the Millennium Drought. By 2000, Australia’s longest river – the River Murray – stopped flowing to the sea, causing social and economic depression through rural communities unable to raise crops. The environmental problems and over allocation of water became a mainstream political and community issue. Passed in 2007, the Water Act put $10 billion of funding in place to affect change.  In 2011, Federal Water Minister Tony Burke appointed Craig as the chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin as part of his vow to “deliver a plan for the Murray-Darling Basin that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and ensures continued food production.” Craig was the center of a very complex situation with various challenging components that needed to align. As he appropriately describes as a “fertile area for debate,” Craig and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority sought steps that would find the right balance between science, policy, process, environment, economics, culture and community.

“You can’t manage a landscape if it’s dead. You have to invest in its future health to maintain its productivity.”

The plan, although under plenty of scrutiny and turmoil, has been validated by science and reflects a process to adapt and adjust to new information and environmental circumstances. It’s only the beginning of a very long story, but Australia boldly has gone where no one else has, building a unique process that will continue to seek improvement and further develop economic markets.

It was an honor to speak with Craig about water in the future. He provides insight into how we can plan for an extended and widespread drought here in the U.S.

As always, I’m thankful for your time and hope you enjoy this episode. We have many more fascinating interviews planned for this year! Make sure to subscribe to freshwater Talk on iTunes to ensure you don’t miss an episode.

Next up? Founder of Equilibrium Capital David Chen. Tune in, you’ll learn something.

Yours in conservation,
Joe Whitworth

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