Committing to the unknown: panel discussion on investment in novel irrigation infrastructure

Organised by the Institute for Water Futures, Fenner School of Environment & Society, ANU Centre for European Studies, and the Water Policy Innovation Hub Jean Monnet project.

Decisions to invest in new irrigation infrastructure are made in the face of substantial uncertainty around costs, gaps in hydrological and groundwater understanding, and need for policy development. In addition, farmers and private enterprise are being asked to bear increasing responsibility for these decisions which traditionally were led and funded by government.

This panel brings together researchers and from the Netherlands and Australia to share their perspectives and discuss their experiences. Case studies include an irrigation co-operative in the Murrumbidgee, projects in Tasmania, Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) in the Murrumbidgee, and water policy in New South Wales.

A light lunch will be served following the seminar. Please indicate via the registration link if you have any dietary requirements.


Melle Nikkels - Infrastructure investment benefits from farmers sharing decision reasoning and allowing flexibility

Melle Nikkels is a researcher based at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, in collaboration with the consultancy firm Aequator Groen & Ruimte and the University of Tasmania. His work explores how farmers (can) influence the water system, with a focus on water valuation and social learning.

Melle will discuss his work on using decision crossover points as a focus for social learning among farmers, water managers and policy makers in the context of major Tasmania Irrigation projects, along with the importance of building flexibility into infrastructure design and management due to the unknowns involved.


Keith Thompson - Deciding to invest in managed aquifer recharge

Keith Thompson is an Environmental Compliance Officer at Coleambally Irrigation Co-operative Limited (CICL), which operates a state of the art gravity-fed irrigation system in the Murrumbidgee Valley. Keith led the development of a report on potential challenges and implications of climate change for the CICL, and has been investigating the potential for managed aquifer recharge (MAR) for the irrigation district, together with the Fenner School of Environment & Society.

Keith will discuss Coleambally Irrigation’s experience in previous infrastructure investment, motivation for investigating MAR, and the outlook for adoption of MAR.


Jenifer Ticehurst & Joseph Guillaume - Is managed aquifer recharge feasible in the Murrumbidgee?

Jenifer Ticehurst is a Research Fellow in the Fenner School of Environment & Society, specialising in sustainability of Australia's agricultural systems. She currently leads a Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) project on the feasibility of managed aquifer recharge, in collaboration with the University of Sydney.

Joseph Guillaume is a Research Fellow in the Institute for Water Futures and Fenner School of Environment & Society, at the Australian National University, funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA). His work focuses on how uncertainty is managed in water resources management and planning.

Jen and Joseph will present a set of scenarios for managed aquifer recharge to be viable, and discuss feasibility analyses and enabling policy changes. The scenarios and feasibility analyses are being developed as part of a research project on feasibility of managed aquifer recharge for the Cotton industry.




Kristanne Mahony – Groundwater management under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Kristanne Mahony is Director of Groundwater Management at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). Kristanne is a professional and highly experienced leader with extensive capabilities in the areas of water planning and policy development, stakeholder management and project management. She is an accomplished individual with a strong drive to succeed, leading others in the delivery of the organisation’s strategic objectives. Kristanne is also a personable and confident communicator with skills honed over functional responsibilities associated with water legislation and implementation.

Kristanne will talk about groundwater management under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and MAR accounting related to groundwater and surface water under the Basin Plan. The Basin Plan sets the amount of groundwater that can be taken from the Basin’s groundwater resources each year and ensures groundwater is monitored and managed through local water plans and water resource plans (WRPS). WRPs outline the mechanisms for achieving community, environmental, economic and cultural outcomes in accordance with the Basin Plan requirements.  The Authority is working with Basin state governments to ensure the management arrangements detailed in WRPs consider relevant risks to ensure sustainable management of groundwater resources across the Basin.  This management regime ensures the risks to the Basin’s groundwater resources are effectively managed and adaptively reviewed over time.

Alvar Closas - Irrigation decisions under uncertainty: The Boom of Groundwater Use in the Nile Delta

Alvar Closas is a political scientist with a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Oxford. Alvar was previously based in Egypt with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) as the Acting Office Head for the Middle East and North Africa working on groundwater management, policy and governance. He has also worked for the World Bank on urban water management in Sub-Saharan Africa and water resources planning and North Africa.

Alvar will provide his perspective on the development of groundwater-based irrigation in the Nile Delta in Egypt.



Andrew McCallum is unfortunately ill and was not able to join the panel as previously advertised.

The panel discussion will be held under the Chatham House Rule: participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.