Supporting Traditional Owners to win water rights

Banner image: Reedy Swamp (near Kaiela/Goulburn River, Yorta Yorta Country)
Erin O’Donnell

Erin O'Donnell_Lee Godden Story image

In 2020 the Victorian State government returned 2 billion litres of water to the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC). This important milestone reflects long-term leadership from GLaWAC, and outcomes of the Cultural Water for Cultural Economies project by Dr Erin O’Donnell and Professor Lee Godden.

The Cultural Water for Cultural Economies project is a research partnership with Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations (FVTOC). The project is part of a broader program, the Roadmap to Water for Aboriginal Economic Development, funded by the Victorian state government as part of Water for Victoria (2016).

First Nations and Traditional Owners hold the knowledge, stories, custodial obligations and cultural knowledge that have always ensured the health of waterways and river Country, and the project depended on their willingness to share their expertise with the research team. Over the past two years, Erin has worked closely with representatives from 20 Traditional Owners and First Nations, as well as water authorities, catchment management authorities, water brokers, environmental water holders and the state Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning  to identify opportunities and remove barriers to Traditional Owners water rights.

The research drew on Erin’s expertise in water law, water governance, and water markets, as well as her extensive networks across the water industry in Victoria. This project builds on the work of Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law as part of the National Cultural Flows Research Project, in which Associate Professor Rebecca Nelson and Professor Lee Godden assisted First Nations to answer key questions about accessing and using water for economic development as well as contribute to innovative policy that will recognise Aboriginal water rights.

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