The Namoi Catchment is a rich agricultural region in north-western New South Wales, Australia. Defined by the watershed of the Namoi River, it covers an area of about 42,000km2 and is home to around 100,000 people – mostly along the rivers. The Namoi Catchment Management Authority was one of the first regional natural resource management organisations in Australia to use resilience thinking to develop an updated Catchment Action Plan (which is used to co-ordinate natural resource management).
To understand and describe the catchment as a complex system of communities and landscapes the first step was a resilience assessment at the Catchment scale. The assessment was undertaken by staff of the Namoi Catchment Management Authority with assistance from various consultants and researchers. The process used was based on the RA’s resilience assessment workbook but adapted to fit the context, timeframe, and available resources. Four expert workshops and twleve community workshops were held across the catchment (along with online and other consultation approaches) to inform the process. Conceptual models were developed to identify the most important underpinning assets (i.e., what it is that holds that system together and makes it what it is) and how they interact, along with trends and critical thresholds (or tipping points). The catchment-wide resilience assessment identified 16 critical thresholds. The full assessment (described as preliminary in recognition of the fact that it was only a first step) is available online at http://www.beltempo.com.au/resilience/.
A finer scale resilience assessment was then undertaken looking at three sub-regions within the catchment (tablelands, slopes, and plains). A similar process was followed – first collaboratively developing conceptual models for system function of each sub-region and then compiling relevant data and evidence to improve understanding of underpinning assets, drivers of change, and critical thresholds. In contrast to the Catchment scale assessment, there was a particular emphasis on socio–economic data that had been gathered over two years specifically to inform the project. A general resilience assessment was also completed to look more closely at the social and economic aspects of each sub-region, and the region’s capacity to respond to shocks and changes over time. Both assessment reports are available online at http://www.beltempo.com.au/resilience/.
The Namoi Catchment Action Plan 2010-2020 is based on the resilience assessment. Ten targets were developed (along with an set of actions to deliver on each target) to maintain or increase distance from the sixteen critical thresholds identified. The Namoi Catchment Action Plan and a brief summary of the Namoi Catchment Action Plan are available at http://www.beltempo.com.au/resilience/.
As it was one of the first times such an approach was applied in this context, it was interesting to see how different stakeholders viewed the resilience assessments and the resulting plan. For many land managers looking at the landscape and community as one system that could fundamentally change if pushed too far, made sense. One of the strengths of the resilience assessment is the way in which it focuses on the most important aspects of a complex system. This can be both powerful and confronting. For some stakeholders it made sense while for others it was a source of concern. Hence the importance of undertaking the assessments collaboratively.
The process of resilience assessment allowed managers and researchers to review and retest many long-standing assumptions, and to focus on those few most critical underpinning elements in the catchment as a socio-ecological system. It is also important to review the assessments and plans on an ongoing basis as understanding improves or the situation changes. The Namoi Catchment Action plan has adaptive management built into it to ensure that this occurs.
Location: Namoi River Catchment, New South Wales, Australia
System Type: Agriculture,Arid zone,Grassland/Savanna
Contact: Francesca Andreoni
Collaboratoring Institutions: Namoi Catchment Management Authority
Project Dates: 2010-2020
Keywords: Catchment management plan; agriculture