“As a natural resource manager working in catchment management, the International Water Centre’s Master of Integrated Water Management supported my professional mission to improve land and water management for thriving communities,” – Louise Duff, graduate of the Master of Integrated Water Management.
“On my first day of the Master of Integrated Water Management, surrounded by engineers, I wondered if I’d chosen the right course,” Louise said.
“Technical design is not my strong suit. I’m an ecologist with a strong focus on community engagement and stewardship. But very quickly the interdisciplinary nature of water management, with ecological and social dimensions crucial to successful programs, reinforced that I belonged here after all.”
Soon after commencing her studies, Louise was appointed Catchment Management Coordinator with MidCoast Council in New South Wales. The IWC Master’s program was a significant factor in winning the job.
Tasked with preparing the Manning River and Estuary Catchment Management Program (CMP), it was the perfect opportunity to put what she was learning into practice in a catchment that covers more than 8,000 km2 with 16 major tributaries.
“What I was learning with the Master of Integrated Water Management guided me to analyse the system through multiple lenses, consulting with a wide range of stakeholders,” Louise said.
“I worked with Council and community reference groups, with dairy and beef farmers as key stakeholders, to develop a ten-year action program to protect water quality and ecosystem health in the catchment.”
Many farmers make concerted efforts to reduce their impacts, but agriculture continues to put significant pressure on the catchment.
When Louise started work on the Catchment Management Program, the Manning was in the midst of the worst drought on instrumental records. So much so that several farmers on the reference group were advocating for a transition to regenerative agriculture, and more specifically landscape rehydration.
Landscape rehydration is a farmer-led innovation that sits within the broader field of regenerative or ecological agriculture. Practitioners work with rather than against nature, restoring the capture, storage, movement, and cycling of water at property and catchment scales.
“The aim of landscape rehydration is to improve water balance for agricultural production, biodiversity and catchment outcomes,” Louise said.
“As part of the MIWM program I critically evaluated the case for Landscape Rehydration. Through my research I wanted to better understand the farmers’ perspectives, the suite of management practices involved, their efficacy for production and catchment outcomes and the drivers, enablers and barriers for practice change.”
Key findings of Louise’s thesis From Landscape Rehydration to water resilient farming: Supporting practice change were that:
- The innovators and early adopters of Landscape Rehydration have diverse aspirations across social, economic and environmental dimensions
- Farmers are using Landscape Rehydration to solve a range of problems including drought resilience, land degradation and wet and dry extremes
- For farming to transition to more nature-based, regenerative and water resilient practices, there is a need to develop an enabling environment and remove barriers at multiple scales.
“It is hoped the recommendations for landscape rehydration could help government and non-government agencies to support widespread uptake of nature-based water-resilient farming,” Louise said.
Since this time Louise has been engaged by Mulloon Consulting who, backed by the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund, are establishing a community of practice in five locations around the country to build skills for landscape rehydration, to strategically improve water cycling and manage climate risk.
“My passion for landscape rehydration, deepened through my master’s studies with the International Water Centre, has been put into practice improving farm and catchment resilience to the drought conditions becoming more common in the face of climate change,” Louise said
“The program connects farmers with agricultural experts in their region to harness innovation and adopt new practices. It offers producers the opportunity to rapidly gain skills in natural infrastructure and farm-system solutions proven to hold water in the landscape.”