22 – Sustainability for the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin 237 for implementation (see Chapter 7). If tourism continues to increase in popularity, it will need to be actively managed to protect the cultural and environmental values of the Lake Eyre Basin and its rivers (Schmiechen 2004). Conclusion The Lake Eyre Basin and its rivers have outstanding cultural and environmental values, enriched by Traditional Owner, local and scientific knowledge. It was no accident that the Lake Eyre Basin Partnership received the Australian Riverprize in 2014 and the International Riverprize in 2015. It is admirable that there is a Lake Eyre Basin community of formal and informal partnerships, developed over more than 20 years, which has brought together disparate stakeholders, all primarily committed to the sustainability of the Lake Eyre Basin rivers. Despite this track record, the sustainability of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin remains vulnerable to many current and future pressures. Some state, national and international factors will inevitably drive lobbyists to call for development of water resources in the Lake Eyre Basin. This is most likely to manifest as irrigation or mining exploration and development on the floodplains. Current legislative protection measures, policy and practice would be relatively ineffective in preventing deleterious impacts to environmental and cultural resources, if water resource development escalated. The current Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement needs fresh affirmation from the member governments, through strong jurisdictional water legislation which takes a more protective, rather than the traditional exploitative approach to the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. This legislation needs to protect the variability of the river flows, including their volume and quality at natural levels. Vigilance at the more local scale is also critical to prevent deleterious cumulative impacts. Most of all, we need to considerably improve our cost benefit analyses by assessing risk on appropriate time scales, so communities and governments do not shoulder long-term costs of environmental, cultural and social damage. It is no longer an excuse to say we don’t know if these will occur. The evidence is plain to see. Sustainability for Lake Eyre Basin rivers is achievable, but it will be challenging. It will require considerable political and community will. It will require a change in attitudes to water and its function in Australia from development to protection. This might seem ambitious, but there are promising signs of support and, importantly, fundamental recognition of the unique values of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin by governments and communities. The historical record is filled with Basin champions and hard-won battles over the future of the rivers. Australia’s profoundly ancient tectonic and geological journey, together with our most idiosyncratic of ecological trajectories, leave us as unlikely champions for a global icon that knows no equal. The sustainability of the Lake Eyre Basin’s rivers is more than ever our responsibility and it must be shouldered, by current and future champions, with appropriate conviction and action. References Australian Government (2015) Our north, our future: white paper on developing northern Australia. Australian Government, Canberra, http://northernaustralia.gov.au/files/files/ NAWP-FullReport.pdf.
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