Community-based Water Management in a Changing Climate

Associate Professor Cara Beal's teaching and research interests lie in environmental health, water, sanitation and hygiene, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples environmental health, Pacific Island community water management, resilient & sustainable water and water-related energy management, behaviour change and community engagement, smart metering and big data, schools water efficiency management. Cara's recent research, The Remote and Isolated Community Essential Services (RICES) project is the first of its kind in Australia and received support from many local partners.


Aim: This project is combining smart metering energy and water technology with community-based efficiency strategies to achieve reductions in the water and energy use in remote and isolated communities.

Rationale: High energy use water systems (e.g. desalination) are common in island communities. In remote mainland communities, diesel-fuelled bore pumps and treatment plants are typically employed. Through engagement with the community, and backed-up with empirical evidence from smart meters, we developed culturally - appropriate, affordable and practical demand management programs to inform a more reliable and resilient essential services model in remote northern Australia.


  • communities can, and will, use less water and energy if they know how to and what the benefits are of doing so;
  • treated ('town')  water is not the preferred drinking water source in remote communities (as for many non-urban communities in Australia);
  • you really can "manage what you can measure" - provided the data is used meaningfully e.g. smart meters and simple number crunching of this data to share with householders is powerful;
  • community-based water demand management strategies (education, feedback, story telling, information sharing, encouragement) are overwhelmingly preferred by the participants as tools to motivate behaviour change and encourage (outdoor) water efficient practices;
  • government (local, state, federal) urgently need to incorporate, as a default approach, community engagement from the outset of any water, energy (and broader) management policies in regional/remote/isolated; and
  • there is a clear and urgent need to improve the environmental health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in regional/remote/isolated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities before we can say we've met many of the SDG's in Australia!


Professor Poh-Ling Tan - Griffith University, Professor of Law and Governance

Associate Professor Kelly Fielding - University of Queensland

Professor Adrian Miller - Central Queensland University

Research Students

Melissa Jackson (undertaking PhD 2016-2019)

Noora Abdallah (completed IWM Masters final project 2019)

Safaa Aldirawi (completed IWM Masters final project 2018)

Celeste Whitman (Duke University, USA, International research intern, 2017)


The project team would like to warmly and sincerely thank the people of Mapoon, Ali Curung, Masig (Yorke Island) and Kirriri (Hammond Island) for their participation in the project. This project was funded through the Queensland State Government and the Australian Research Council (LP140100118) with contributions from Ergon Energy, Power and Water Corporation and Torres Strait Island Regional Council.

RICES Final Report 2019 (pdf 7MB)

Working with Community and Council

Ensuring safe, accessible and acceptable drinking water in
remote communities in Australia requires culturally and
socially appropriate, technically feasible and economically
viable approaches. Arguably, technical and economic
factors have been the main focus for remote communities in
the water sector, as engineers historically drove the design,
planning and construction phases of water supply
management options.

The Kirirri Story

More recently, increasing focus has been on understanding
and integrating local people and place into water supply and
demand management. This paper focusses on communitybased
water demand management in the inner Torres
Straits community of Kirirri. The aims and methods are
outlined, along with a discussion of the findings which
describe the community-preferred demand management
tools that were piloted in 25 households between 2018-

Project Partners