Justice and the Allocation of Benefits from Water

Document Type

Journal Article


Social Alternatives

Place of Publication

Brisbane, QLD


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Business and Law - Deans Office




Syme, G. J., & Nancarrow, B. E. (2008). Justice and the allocation of benefits from water. Social Alternatives, 27(3), 21.

Available here


As the limitations to Australia's water resources are becoming better understood the issues relating to water allocation are becoming more complex and contested. There is a need to interpret them in the context of the social functions of water. There are two important questions that need to be resolved in this regard. What exactly are we allocating and by what framework can we judge the justice of this allocation. In examining the first issue we suggest that water resource negotiations need to move from a quantity (or gigalitre) approach to one of understanding the benefits that alternative water allocation policies can bring. We define Water Benefits as the ways in which water promotes or diminishes wellbeing in all domains both utilitarian and non utilitarian. We acknowledge that the same quantity of water can deliver multiple benefits as it moves through a catchment which makes it a difficult commodity for economic analysis. In answering the second question we examine Australian studies of lay ethics and common priorities for alternative uses to establish a methodological approach for evaluating the fairness of alternative allocation policies. This can be applied at both local and regional levels. The article concludes by demonstrating that there is ample opportunity for combining the benefits assessment with the systematic application of social justice analysis within the public discussion needed for procedurally just water reform. In this way the negotiations and conflict management accompanying water reform can be more accountable and systematically implemented than is currently the case.

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