22 Sustainability for the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin 235 protect the volume and variability of river flows, with a focus on environmental values (see Chapter 21). Better integration of cultural and socio-economic values could improve the agreement (Gibbs 2006). However, with an upcoming review in 2018, the agreement is vulnerable to any potential policy shift towards water resource or mining development. The intergovernmental framework could be more strongly supported by specific water legislation in Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory, which protects both the volume of flows (allowing for development of water supplies for towns and communities) and the floodplain networks. This was briefly achieved in Queensland through Wild Rivers legislation, before its revocation (see Chapter 21). Other options could include a stronger role for the Australian Government, which developed the water management framework for the Murray–Darling Basin under the Water Act 2007, providing the framework for the Murray– Darling Basin Plan. A potential ‘Lake Eyre Basin Act’, with an associated plan, would differ in that it would fundamentally protect the river basin and its cultural, environmental and socio-economic values. Such legislation could have limited power but have a degree of public commitment and potentially incorporate the Lake Eyre Basin rivers as a National Heritage River (Kingsford et al. 2005a Kingsford et al. 2005b). This would recognise the intertwined environmental and cultural heritage values which support the Basin’s adaptive communities. Legislation that protects the rivers must also be supported by policies that protect their values and foster appropriate practices for long-term sustainability. Currently development is linked to environmental degradation. Decoupling this relationship is essential: we need developments that are environmentally sustainable. Further, in terms of practice, decadal reviews of water resource plans in the Lake Eyre Basin potentially stimulate speculation and interest in water resource development and cause ongoing concern about sustainability. This could be replaced by assessing potential developments against the objectives of policy and legislation to protect the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. In the absence of strong legislation and supporting policies that protect the rivers, the status quo remains: strong partnerships influencing current legislation, which tends to favour water and mining developments. Inevitably, pressure to develop deleterious water resources or establish mining developments will continue, either as single site developments or wide- ranging development policies. Signatory governments to the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement could apply pressure, but this will largely depend on political will. Community organisations and champions can quickly alert the broad community to potential concerns and foster a debate that can exert pressure on governments, occasionally successfully (see Chapter 7). This remains an ad hoc approach which leads to less preferable, confrontational interactions between community and decision-makers. Above this, development proposals should be objectively assessed against rigorous and transparent analyses of hydrological, ecosystem and socio-economic costs and benefits. Inherent uncertainties of such analyses need to also be transparently reported. Currently, there are relatively rudimentary hydrological models used to assess impacts on flow and ecosystems for Cooper Creek but not for the Georgina–Diamantina, largely because of the paucity of data and lack of development in this catchment (see Chapter 2). These hydrological models underestimate hydrological and ecological impacts, particularly on floodplains (Ren
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