Proportional water allocation policies help federal countries cope with drought extremes

Dr. Dustin Garrick (School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford Martin School) delivered a presentation on drought management in federal rivers at a conference on Water in the Anthropocene, held in Bonn on 21-24 May.

Garrick and colleagues compared water allocation policies used to divide water and spread drought risk between state jurisdictions in federal countries, analysing the Colorado, Ebro and Murray-Darling Rivers. He highlighted the importance of proportional allocation rules to cope with climatic variability. Proportional allocation rules distribute water based on a share of available water – not a fixed volume or priority.

Allocation reforms in the three rivers indicate that proportional allocation rules are prevalent among upstream states, while downstream states seek fixed volumes to increase water security. The comparative study suggests that proportional rules distribute risks and benefits in a way that is perceived as fair and limits conflict when compared with fixed allocation systems.

The conference ‘Water in the Anthropocene: Challenges for Science and Governance. Indicators, Thresholds and Uncertainties of the Global Water System’ was organised by the Global Water System Project.

A Declaration signed by the participants of the conference warns that within one or two generations, the majority of the nine billion people on Earth will be living under conditions of severe pressure on fresh water, due to climate change, pollution and overuse.  However, these experts assure that this outcome is entirely avoidable. The Declaration calls for a partnership of scientists, public stakeholders, decision-makers and the private sector to take action to protect and conserve water systems worldwide.

Read the Bonn Declaration on Global Water Security

Visit the conference website