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The Yarra River Values Forum

The Yarra River Values Forum was convened by Institute for Sustainable Futures as part of an investigation by the Victorian Smart Water Fund. Dr. Annie Bolitho shared this case study with NCDD, and it can also be found on her website here.

Annie Bolitho became involved in the planning for this forum at the invitation of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, and was the lead facilitator. The proposal was to test a deliberative approach to the valuing of water, rather than to rely on more commonly used economic tools. This would enable a different view on what are known in economics as ‘externalities’. Here, a river could be seen as having values that aren’t bought or sold in the market, such as recreation, and others which aren’t counted when people think about the value of water at the tap, like well managed riparian zones and a healthy ecology.

The Forum would bring together a randomly selected group of 24 people from Melbourne to explore questions about the value of the Yarra River. Participants deliberated on the social, environmental and economic parameters of providing a water supply and maintaining ecosystem health.

The Key Question or Charge: How do we value the Yarra, a major component of Melbourne’s water supply, as a river? How do we make decisions, including what we would be willing to pay, to reflect what we care about the most?

Outcome: It was apparent that externalities could not be valued in monetary terms by this group. The recommendations were received by the Manager of Regulation and Planning at Yarra Valley Water who thanked the participants on behalf of the Smart Water Fund and the water utilities. The Smart Water Fund undertook to consider the recommendations as representative of the views of informed members of the public on values relating to the Yarra River and Melbourne’s water supply.

Approach: Participants received briefing documents on Citizens’ Juries, the Yarra and its catchment and the Melbourne water supply system. The documents linked to Melbourne Water, Yarra Riverkeepers, the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s Central Sustainable Water Strategy and Watermark Australia. Documents also included a glossary of terms: eg environmental flow, nutrients, run off, stormwater.

Jurors met for three days. They were introduced to the issues, took part in deliberative valuation and multicriteria analysis, deliberated on the speakers’ presentations and broke into groups to write recommendations.

Expert Witnesses

  • David Buntine, CEO Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority
  • Dr Clive Spash, Ecological Economist, CSIRO
  • Dr Gamini Herath, A/Prof Economics, Deakin University
  • Dr Wayne Chomley, Victorian Women’s Trust Watermark Project
  • Prof John Langford OA, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • Alieta Donald, Branch manager, Sustainable Water Strategies, DSE
  • Jane Bateson, Team Leader, River Health, Melbourne Water

For further information see: Pilot 2 (Yarra River Forum) Final Report, Vol. 1

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