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So many differences

One of the things I’ve been most surprised about here in Australia is learning about all the differences between water policy and river restoration in the US and in Australia. I certainly knew there were going to be differences, but I was surprised by what was different. In fact, it took me quite some time to realize some of these differences. I suppose it’s because I’ve been learning about water policy in the US for so long, and many things that are essentially givens in the US either don’t apply at all, or are completely different here.

I know I wrote an earlier blog about some of the major differences between Australia and the US, but I seem to keep learning more. (Though hopefully there won’t be too many more surprises!)

One of the most interesting differences for me was what environmental flows are used for in each country. For so long, I’ve thought of environmental flows as being in the river, providing habitat for fish and other creatures, and also somewhat mimicking the natural flow regime of a river, with floods and things like that. However, here in Australia, environmental flows are not really used in the river, but are really set aside for wetlands and floodplains adjacent to the river. Essentially, when these areas are flooded, birds and amphibians will breed, and also vegetation gets a good long drink, which enables it to survive through drier years. So, here, you can actually store environmental flows in a reservoir and then release them to piggy-back on a natural large flow event to either increase the duration or size of the flood.

I was having so much trouble understanding things here because I had a completely erroneous assumption about what environmental flows should be like here. Once I figured it out, so many things started to make more sense. I guess the point of this blog and what I’ve realized is that it actually is really good to learn about situations different from the ones you’re most familiar with. You can suddenly realize that things you’ve accepted as fact may not apply in other cases, and this I think helps you break out with your thinking a little bit, because you can begin to see a wider world of possibilities.

Of course the differences can also mean that solutions to an issue in one country won’t work in another, but on the whole, I think differences can help all of us think more broadly about these similar threats, and brainstorm together to find better solutions.


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