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The Land and Water Management Plans (LWMPs) developed for the irrigation districts in the Murray region of NSW are said to be at the forefront of institutional innovation for integrated resource management. Farmers have been strongly involved both in the development of the Plans (for which cost-sharing arrangements with the NSW Government were agreed in 1996) and in deliberations regarding their implementation. Governance of LWMP implementation has been substantially devolved to Murray Irrigation Limited (MIL) which has operated the irrigation schemes since their privatisation in 1994. Since MIL is owned by its irrigator customers, its role as LWMP implementation authority has effectively shifted the rising watertables of the region (which, due to their declining capacity to assimilate subsurface drainage, were the main concern of the LWMPs) from open access subsurface drainage outlets into common property. The rhetoric of the Murray LWMPs suggests that voluntary on-farm compliance is enhanced by the community ownership that has arisen through ongoing local influence over the content of the Plans and how they are to be implemented. In this paper I make some observations on how reality matches this rhetoric. The observations are based on analysis of structured interviews undertaken face to face with 240 farmers during August and September 1999.


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