Enacting multiple river realities in the performance of an environmental flow in Australia’s Murray‐Darling Basin

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Jackson, Sue
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2021
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Abstract

In 2018, a large, coordinated environmental flow was instituted along the Barwon-Darling (Barka) River to connect ecosystems and restore public confidence in water regulation in the Murray-Darling Basin. This article examines the multiple river realities enacted by this event—environmental flow, regulated flow, unregulated flow, shut-up flow—as a conflict over what constitutes the character of water during substantial change in Australia’s settler colonial systems of water governance. Geographical analyses of event spaces from military contexts assisted in unpacking the ontological and spatio-temporal matters germane to this situation in which managers needed to heed the dynamism of the river at both material and institutional registers. The article describes the scientific and regulatory practices and visual technologies through which management of an “event-ful” river brought together some waters (but not others) into something ontologically secure and coherent, and therefore governable. It shows how the naturalising discourse constrained and enabled what could be said about the relations deserving of water and who gets to decide what socio-material connections water might make. Aboriginal leaders interviewed during the flow chose to emphasise a wider relational set of connections than did state water managers, and to accentuate dysfunctional and destructive relations, thereby inviting others to think and feel differently about environmental flows.

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Geographical Research
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FT130101145
DP190100875
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© 2021 The Author. Geographical Research published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd on behalf of Institute of Australian Geographers. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Environmental geography
Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
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Jackson, S, Enacting multiple river realities in the performance of an environmental flow in Australia’s Murray‐Darling Basin, Geographical Research
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