Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Regional Adaptation in a Global Market-The Case of Water Infrastructure

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Regional Adaptation in a Global Market-The Case of Water Infrastructure

Article excerpt


Australia and the western United States share a set of complex water management problems requiring resolution of competing interests, and a Federal system in which both State and Federal governments have interests in water. Water availability varies from prolonged drought to extreme flood (MDBA, 2009; Nicholls, 2004; cf Smith, 2004). Population expansion, naturally variable climates and an aging water infrastructure have concentrated attention on competing water uses and both jurisdictions have addressed problems of water transfer, typically to urban communities, both within and between catchments. Both Australia and the United States have been compelled to redress consequences of historical water allocations on the environment in the context of rising consumptive demand.

A comparison will be made of two irrigation regions; Rochester, in Central Victoria, Australia, and Tumalo in Central Oregon, United States of America. Both are semi-arid inland regions which have a relatively small population base and are some distance from large urban centres. In both areas settlement, and later, irrigation, occurred as a result of aggressive government and private measures designed to settle inland regions. However, both share modern agricultural problems--a globalised sector, falling agricultural returns, rising inputs, increasing environmental regulation and compliance costs, and urbanisation.

This article examines the history of settlement and water conveyance, illustrating the close association of ideas in the American and Australian experience. The confluence of ideas has created a framework for a decline in agricultural fortunes, but there have been areas of social and political difference between the Australian and American experience. There is evidence of an increasingly 'marketised' environment for water, prompting its sale to urban communities, creating issues of 'stranded assets', and increasing infrastructure cost burdens on irrigators. Small irrigation districts are constrained by social, political and economic factors that render the userpays model unlikely to succeed for them. In an economy in which commodity prices are not keeping pace with inputs and imports are artificially suppressed by subsidisation, small communities like Rochester and Tumalo are likely to continue their decline.


The precepts upon which Australia was settled drew upon American influences, and were affected by the participation of Americans, particularly in the development of the large irrigation schemes in northern Victoria (Rutherford, 1964, p. 88). These developments influenced the development of other parts of Australia. This is more than a coincidence of ideas. It manifests the tension between opening up the interior to settlement and the tendency of the bulk of the population to settle along the coast and in the cities (Keneley, 2001; Ingle Smith, 1998, p.143). There were varying motivations for closer settlement: social justice for selectors or returned soldiers, incentives for army recruitment, increased revenue as a result of closer settlement, or 'homesteading' in the United States), or xenophobia (Keneley, 2001, Barr, 1999, p.45). Once settlers were on the land, it was expected, too optimistically, that they would become self-sufficient 'yeoman' farmers and not require government subsidisation or continuing commitment to infrastructure funding.

Tumalo, Oregon

Tumalo (previously Laidlaw) in central Oregon is located in the north central portion of Deschutes County, near Bend. It has a mean annual rainfall of 304-381 mm (12-15 in) and a mean maximum annual temperature of 15[degrees]C. The summers are generally quite warm, although the elevation moderates temperatures (Taylor, nd). Tumalo and Bend are classified as Dsb --Cold, with a dry, warm summer, but Deschutes is classified as Bsk (cold arid steppe) based on Peel et al. (2007).

The Federal Homestead Act 1862 first encouraged settlement by dry farmers around the 1880s, but the arid landscape requires irrigation for large scale agriculture. …

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