Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin

A Century of Polycentric Experiments in Cross-Border Integration of Water Resources Management


  • G.R. Marshall University of New England
  • D. Connell Australian National University
  • B.M. Taylor CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences


integrated water resources management, collective action, polycentricity, jurisdictional integrity, Australia, Murray-Darling Basin


We respond in this article to scholars having identified a theory-practice gap commonly afflicting
applications of integrated water resources management (IWRM) internationally, and thus a
need for the concept to be recast according to evidence of how integration of fragmented water
management efforts actually occurs. The Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) is employed as a longitudinal
case study for this purpose, focusing particularly on its cross-border integration challenges.
We frame IWRM as the pursuit of coherent collective action by the multiple enterprises
(public, private, civic and hybrid) typically constituting the polycentric public industry involved
in managing water resources. We look beyond approaches involving overt coordination to other
approaches with potential to contribute towards such coherence. We find that Australian
governments are no longer able to overtly coordinate the suite of interdependent enterprises relevant to
the success of water management efforts in the Basin. Their success in strengthening coherence
or integration in these efforts has come to depend increasingly on their ability to devise governance
arrangements capable of catalysing (e.g., by fostering conditions supportive of fruitful
competitive rivalry or informal collaborations) the kinds of dynamics through which more of the
required integration of management efforts emerges on a self-organised basis.


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How to Cite

Marshall, G. ., Connell, D. ., & Taylor, B. . (2013). Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin: A Century of Polycentric Experiments in Cross-Border Integration of Water Resources Management. International Journal of Water Governance, 1(3-4), 197–218. Retrieved from

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