| | MR Online Shows river near Mildura before the introduction of the lock system. Man standing in dry riverbed beside the small flow of water—all that remained because of the drought. Source: Wilf Henty, 1901/1940, State Library Victoria, slv.vic.gov.au.

The Price of Water and the Ongoing Colonization of Nature: Australian Cases in Global Context

Nothing is more useful than water; but it will scarce purchase anything; scarce anything may be had in exchange for it.

—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


The water crisis results from an erroneous equation of value with monetary price. However, resources can often have very high value while having no price.

—Vandana Shiva, Water Wars

In parsing the dual definition of the word value in terms of utility and what we call exchange, Adam Smith mused that water might have “the greatest value in use” but little value in exchange.1 I can hardly charge you for a cupful of water, but I can command great riches with a cupful of diamonds, goes a paradox that only the dehydrated would dispute. Fortunately for those committed to ensuring everything is given its fair price, competition over fresh, clean water supplies is leading corporations and their partners in government into situations that transform water from a useful common good to a scarce, exchangeable asset. This process of commodification and financialization is imbricated in an ongoing colonization of nature, one starkly illustrated in settler colonial contexts like Australia. Too rarely are fears about commodification connected to this ongoing colonization, and further to the capitalist dynamics that drive it.

One recent example helps us see how variation in the price of water works to support capitalist accumulation.2 Taking a legal settlement (an “enforceable undertaking”), one price is starkly demonstrated by a recent “agreement” between Illawarra Coal Holdings, a subsidiary of South32, and the New South Wales’s Natural Resources Access Regulator. They settled on a payment (or what the undertaking calls a “donation/contribution for public benefit”) imposed for taking unlicensed surface water from Sydney’s drinking water catchment area.3 According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s Tim Fernandez, the mine operator drained five megaliters per day over a period of five years (a figure not recorded in the undertaking or other reporting).4 The undertaking requires the mining operators to contribute $2,878,138 to a community project, as well as $70,000 to cover investigation, legal, and monitoring costs. By my estimate, this puts the price of a liter of water at around $0.00032. If the aim is to disincentivize the theft of water, this is a very light deterrent. The Dendrobrium Mine at which the illegal activity occurred already paid $5.6 million to license “passive water take resulting from underground activities.” If the mine’s production of around five million tons of coking coal remained steady from available figures for 2019 and 2020 sold at average prices of around $210 AUD (based on average estimates for exchange rates), the mine could have had revenue of around $1 billion.5 Prices for coking coal have since risen, according to the International Energy Agency, and despite scrapping plans to expand the mine, it is likely that production rose.6 It is a safe assumption that an enforceable undertaking of under $3 million is well worth it for the mining operator. Moreover, recent legislation in New South Wales (NSW) will make retrospectively licensing water takes by “enabling” companies to “trade” allocations.7 The implied price of $0.00032 can be compared with consumer prices, between $0.0035 and $0.0025 depending on if you live in Melbourne or Sydney. This suggests that consumers pay ten times more for water than companies who steal it.

Do such numbers tell us anything? Perhaps only that we take water for granted because most users pay little more (or much less) than a nominal service fee. But that would accept the identification of value and price. Prices are useful to a capitalist system because they allow different uses to be compared by the same abstract measure: money. They are also useful to the capitalist system because, as David Harvey writes in The Limits to Capital, “the act of exchange tells us nothing about the conditions of labor of producers, for example, and keeps us in a state of ignorance concerning our social relations as these are mediated by the market system. We respond solely to the prices of quantities of use values.”8 Prices are meant to be a measure of value, and yet they work forcefully to conceal real social relations. One feature starkly demonstrated by the penalty imposed on Illawarra Coal is that the state is intimately involved in sanctioning this sleight of hand.

Property and Colonial Expropriation

One response to the difference in the apparent price of water for the mine’s illegal taking and for the intended consumers is that it is unfair. And certainly, there is a case to be made for its injustice and the hypocrisy of asking increasing prices for consumers while illegal and destructive expropriation of water goes mostly unpunished. Yet, this risks foreclosing the question of our use of water in the first place and the social relations that enable it. Water has been more explicitly folded into the regime of colonial property through practices of expropriation, neoliberal privatization, and intensified irrigation regimes in the context of ecological stress. As Brenna Bhandar writes in Colonial Lives of Property:

The imperatives of settler colonialism, itself a capitalist formation, require the maintenance of noncapitalist rationales for the appropriation of indigenous lands. Dispossession achieved through ongoing forms of primitive accumulation requires a panoply of premodern and modern property logics that operate in conjunction with one another, reflecting the fragmented and contradictory nature of colonial modernity.9

Paying consumer prices enables us to turn on the tap and forget about the vast subterranean infrastructure feeding our instantaneous demand. (We violently notice it when it doesn’t work, though communities that rely on bores are certainly more aware.) Beneath the layers of market exchange, as Karen Piper and Vandana Shiva argue, this infrastructure itself is a product of colonization, a process which led to dam-building projects around the world.10 Colonization involved, as Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1923, “a settled practice of converting all public wealth to private gain on a plan of legalized seizure.”11

The Dendrobrium mine is far from the only recent example of water theft in Australia. There is a veritable cascade of examples, linked to what many, such as Maude Barlow, call a global water crisis.12 Using such language tends to abstract from the “mosaic of local and regional crises” that constitute the global pattern, as Derek Vollmer and Ian J. Harrison argue.13 Similarly, Andreas Bieler and Madelaine Moore propose that for the purposes of resisting ongoing water colonization and privatization, we should view these interconnected crises as “differentiated moments of the same process.”14

The process tracks the ongoing effects of colonialization alongside new forms of capitalist expropriation and exploitation as part of the neoliberal era. By analyzing the World Water Forum and its illustrious corporate attendees, Karen Piper demonstrates that there is a concerted campaign to privatize and commodify water supplies from municipal to global levels.15 The campaign is increasingly part of a green-branding exercise for fossil capital, but the premise is far from sustainable. As John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark write in The Robbery of Nature, “The ecological contradictions of received economics are most evident in its inability to respond to the planetary environmental crisis.”16

One way in which this plays out is the willful ignorance about historical social relations and the ways that property is acquired. Prices require firm property rights, and the process of acquiring them has often been and remains violent.17 Mary Gilmore’s 1934 memoir Old Days, Old Ways illustrates one example of this phenomenon.18 Gilmore describes how as a child in the 1870s living near Wagga Wagga on the Murrumbidgee River, fish traps and other aquacultural interventions conserved fish in streams during dry seasons and enabled their reproduction. But as colonial settlers and pastoralists destroyed and replaced the “balks” with larger, permanent dams, “the great fish would devour the smaller varieties and the end would be loss—a loss that the years since have proved fact.”19 I detect Gilmore here also allegorizing the process of colonial violence: a big fish eating smaller ones. But her sensitivity to the disruption of an ecological land custodianship is also redolent in the identification of “loss,” almost in the abstract. A wider loss is being recorded that performs an inverse accounting of the private gains made by colonial landholders’ reserves of water. But the location and enumeration of violence in the past risks providing cover to the ongoing accumulation by dispossession, or the enclosure of commons, that turns common goods into private property.20

The Management of Malpractice

A survey of older historical accounts of the establishment of agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin, such as Ernestine Hill’s triumphalist 1937 Water into Gold, gives the impression that, after a few pioneering decades, settlement and development were accomplished by the early twentieth century.21 The water was, as it were, tamed, and the dry, brown land turned verdant European green. But the process Gilmore described continues. Illegal dam construction remains a prominent concern for environmentalists and water managers, such as the practice of flood plain harvesting which over the last seventy years has captured in private dams water that would have replenished common flows.22

As government resource managers reckon with the environmental costs of climate change and intensified agriculture, their calculations about a “healthy” river system use baseline figures. These figures are politically contested and almost invariably revised downward when it comes to actually delivering environmental water, as recent development in Basin management illustrate.23 While major rivers and government dams can be monitored with a degree of accuracy, floodplains are more difficult. The NSW government identified 1,386 dams in the northern floodplain area, with an estimated holding capacity of 1,450 gigalitres (about 12,500 out of 32,500 gigaliters are used for agriculture in the basin each year).

After the millennium drought and a drought in 2015, the value of water became far more palpable. Rather than reflecting on its value to humans and ecosystems, businesses respond instead by enclosing greater swathes. Dam building intensified in the years after the drought, as an ABC Four Corners report exposed in 2017.24 While national attention often gravitates toward the Murray-Darling Basin, with its cross-continental span, private dams are a tactic of accumulation by dispossession in smaller water systems as well. For instance, flows in the Moorabool River near Ballarat in Victoria are threatened by unlicensed dams that have expanded over the last ten years.

Matthew Colloff, a water scientist at the Australian National University, commented that “it’s not that an individual is causing a problem, but where you get a proliferation of unlicensed dams across the catchment that can severely compromise the environment.”25 Strictly speaking, it is true that an individual dam may not damage an entire river system (though it depends on the size of the dam in relation to the river system). But this diffusion of responsibility treats each instance of dam construction as a disconnected infraction rather than a strategy of organized dispossession. Moreover, Colloff uses the phrase “free for all” to describe the proliferation of dams, in contrast to what he calls a “public good.” The phrase is interesting because a public good is in a way free for all, whereas private dams make a public good free for the property owner.

The Frontier of Environmental Markets

Southern Rural Water, the regulator responsible for managing the Moorabool (a river believed to be named after the Wadawarrung word for the “haunt or cry of a curlew or ghost”), found sixty-four breaches of the Water Act in 2022, but there were no prosecutions. Calls to establish a resources regulator like NSW’s Natural Resources Access Regulator, which fined Illawarra Coal, may be warranted, but it may do little to stop the cycle of businesses pushing the frontiers of expropriation before appearing to be reined in. Moreover, regulators and resource managers risk building in the unlicensed takes depending on when they begin measurements and how they judge average flows through river systems that have already been profoundly changed by agricultural and other industrial activity.

When penalties are applied, as in the case of the Dendrobrium mine, they are light. In the first successful prosecution of a tier-one offence by NSW’s Natural Resources Access Regulator, an irrigator in Moree Plains in northern NSW was fined $353,750 plus costs of $2,374 for the construction of an unlawful dam and under-recording water takes.26 While not operating on coal mining profit margins, the Environmental Defenders Office pointed out that the fine was only 5 percent of the maximum possible penalty. The approximate quantity of unrecorded, illegal water taken over the “offending period” from 2016 to 2018 was 1,418 megaliters. In the spirit of the exercise of pricing water, this makes for the equivalent of $0.0002 per liter. Given these examples, it is a deep irony that water markets were introduced with the intention not just to maximize “productive benefit,” as Lin Crase, Phil Pagan, and Brian Dollery note, but also to improve ecological and environmental outcomes.27 The precise mechanism through this would be achieved is a persistent area of vagueness in the wide literature on water markets in the Murray-Darling system. My impression is that by pricing water entitlements, irrigators were meant to make more efficient use of water—not to reduce water use, but to redistribute it according to the prevailing market imperatives.

The economic dogma is that markets turn scarcity into a virtue, but allocating capital to the most profitable use. The 2021 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report into the Murray-Darling Basin water markets is replete with the promise to turn scarcity to the advantage of the economy, but the environment does not really figure. The report reads: “It is important that institutions and other governance arrangements are designed to focus on making the markets work—to ensure users are able to maximise the benefits, for themselves and for the economy, from vital, scarce resources.”28

In case we didn’t get it the first time, they repeat:

Water is scarce; and where it is demanded or valued most changes over time. The ability to trade water helps people access water where it is wanted most—to put it to its most productive use. With water trade, irrigators produce more of the things valued most and the Australian economy benefits.29

Another mechanism in the arsenal of advocates for the market is that it internalizes what was previously an externality, a cost not considered by the water user. Once again, it is perhaps an irony that rather than confront users with a cost, the introduction of the market led many to realize and begin to trade “sleeper” entitlements. A managerial intervention meant to force users to allocate a scarce resource more efficiently ended up increasing water use dramatically, despite consistently unrealized promises to reclaim water for the environment.30 One reason the promise of environmental water remains unfulfilled is because the release of environmental water moves through the same system as that which private users draw from, and without agreements with landholders, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office “had to avoid releasing large volumes in case it made its way onto private land or blocked low level river crossings.”31

Managing water through the market also has the non-incidental effect of prioritizing profitable water use, which leaves the environment and Indigenous water users far down the list. Irrigator councils and business groups—organized capital—constantly complain about what they see as the threat of environmental water. Their complaints lay bare the contradiction of capitalist expropriation of nature. One report cited an irrigator for whom, “what can get lost in debates like these is the human factor. The Murray-Darling Basin is not merely an ecosystem—it is a resource, and a vital one for the immense agricultural interests it sustains.”32 This extraordinary reversal of the conditions of possibility shows just how much of a social relation the question of natural scarcity remains. Nevertheless, there is the more or less obvious fact that the irrigator is wrong: water is first and foremost part of an ecosystem and can only secondly be a resource if it is to have the possibility of regenerating and reproducing itself.

Private Assets and Public Losses

Markets can also make private owners seems essential to the reproduction of an ecosystem. Waves of public infrastructure privatization in the 1980s and ’90s created a natural monopoly for corporations like Veolia and Suez. Sydney’s drinking water, jeopardized by the Dendrobrium mine’s illegal extraction, is in part managed by Suez. Despite Maude Barlow’s assertion that rich nations would “never permit foreign corporations to run and profit from their water supplies,” both municipal and agricultural water are owned by foreign entities in Australia.33 They promise to “optimise the efficiency and performance” of municipal assets and “improve or expand ageing infrastructure and gain greater value from their investment.”34 Projects like the Prospect Reservoir water treatment facility have attracted capital from institutional investors like UniSuper.35

The fact that such projects attract investors means the projects offer “attractive returns,” as UniSuper head of property and private markets says. Such essential public infrastructure is perfect for long-term investment to siphon money into private hands because governments will always step in to rescue it should anything go wrong, often socializing risk. As Clark and Foster put it,

growth of natural scarcity is seen as a golden opportunity to further privatize the world’s commons.… This is best illustrated by the rapid privatization of freshwater, which is now seen as a mega-market for global [private] accumulation. The drying up and contamination of freshwater diminishes public wealth, creating investment opportunities for capital, while profits made from selling increasingly scarce water are recorded as contributions to income and riches.36

According to Karen Piper, pollution, groundwater loss, and climate change are the three main problems facing freshwater.37 Alongside the scarcity framework often applied to water, pioneers of “natural capital” and “sustainable development” like Edward Barbier in The Water Paradox also propose that it is outdated management, underpricing, and lack of innovation that has exacerbated scarcity.38 This funnels the problem into the technocratic organization of functioning markets that price goods and resources based on the information channeled through the market.

Markets, in some proponents’ terms, sound perfectly suited to managing complex ecosystems. Advocates like Terry Anderson suggest that markets are, in a sense, like water: dynamic, flowing, connective. This link also provides markets with naturalistic legitimacy, mimicking the natural flows of nature as gravity provides water to the lower stretches of a river. In an illustration of his “free market environmentalism,” Anderson recommends strengthened, enforceable property rights that allow transfer and exchange to the maximum extent.39 In other words, he recommends maximal fluidity so that market transactions can best make use of and reflect ecological conditions. Water markets, especially in their mature form with interstate and inter-river trades, give the illusion that economic transactions are followed by neat hydrological exchange. In dynamically responding to conditions, prices do what no scientist or environmental manager can.

Of course, this whole view tends to elide the extent to which market actors respond not to environmental conditions but to economic conditions, and that their aim as market actors is not ecologically sustainability but profit. Markets provide information on a single, limited, and abstract axis of value: price. Moreover, making property rights “well-defined, enforced and transferable” enables users to trade with security but it does nothing for the river itself.40 It is silent on the health of the waters and is an obstacle to the effective repair of the environment. Not only do markets make property rights enforceable, they also create a sense of entitlement when water is requisitioned without free exchange. The need to reclaim water for the environment is perceived as a threat to market exchange, as cumbersome bureaucratic meddling or monopolistic behavior.

The Reproductive Crisis of Water

In fact, it is the ferocious intensification of demand for water as a commodity that threatens the environment and healthy living conditions for communities. A further part in the mosaic of water crises is water mining, which contributed to Tamborine Mountain’s bores running dry and its residents left stranded without drinking water in 2019, despite warnings two years earlier.41 Residents’ fears of “running dry” were realized and the sight of trucks carrying water harvested from the mountain out of the town was a stark reminder of how market priorities allocate resources: “When the school bore ran dry last week, trucks carrying emergency water up the mountain passed trucks carrying local water to bottling plants.”42

Private companies, including Coca Cola Amatil, have long relied on a 2011 study that found water mining was “sustainable,” but warned about reduced ecological outcomes and flagged numerous unknown hydro-ecological factors in the complex groundwater systems.43 It is a pattern repeated globally that has adverse health effects on Indigenous people.44 At a site in Canada, Nestlé exploits legislative loopholes and oversight to pay a mere $503.71 CAD per million liters extracted ($0.0005/liter). As Maude Barlow argues, corporations are “imposing a new form of colonial conquest dressed up as the one and only economic model available.”45 Both the local and Queensland governments claimed their hands were tied either by jurisdictional issues or old development applications, echoing longstanding complexities in jurisdictional management of water in Australia. The extraction of groundwater, which receives little regulatory oversight, is all the more precarious since the mechanisms that replenish it are not well known and extracting it can change soil and ground dynamics. The fact that these effects are “risks” renders the effects of continued water extraction a gamble and absolves the companies or governments of responsibility, since in a sense the almost inevitable ensuing disaster was only a possibility.

The image of trucks carrying water off the mountain as a town runs dry is the epitome of the Lauderdale paradox that Foster and Clark use to describe the irrationality of the expropriation of natural commons. Foster and Clark describe the paradox as the “inverse correlation between public wealth and private riches such that an increase in the latter often served to diminish the former.”46 Many classical economists recognized this before modern economic theory buried it by conflating wealth with value, and so denying that the common natural wealth had any value before it was exchanged on a market.

In On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), David Ricardo picked up Smith’s water paradox, writing, “Gold, on the contrary, though of little use compared with air or water, will exchange for a great quantity of other goods. Utility then is not the measure of exchangeable value, although it is absolutely essential to it.”47 He continues that unlike most commodities, which receive their value from labor, “there are some commodities, the value of which is determined by scarcity alone,” adding in his notes a quote from Smith: “Where she is munificently beneficent, [nature] always works gratis.”48 Ricardo seems to recognize the potential for undervaluing natural resources, but elects instead to treat nature as a “free gift.” Classical political economy’s cover for environmental expropriation would lay the foundations for the further step taken by neoliberal economists, including precursors like Carl Menger, who saw nature as “abundantly available (non-economic) goods” that must be rendered economic, including by imposing scarcity if necessary.49

This way of rendering value erases the specific character of natural, variegated entities like water. It makes little sense to homogenize “water” into a single molecular construction in real social and economic contexts where complex factors of hydrology and ecology dramatically change the way in which water must be treated. Moore and Bieler insist that “water is neither a natural resource nor merely an economic good but is constantly being reimagined through these dynamics.”50 The historical and material changes enacted by bringing economics to bear on water have also changed its conceptual character. The broader category of resource, Vandana Shiva notes in Water Wars, originates in the Latin root meaning surge, implying “that which has the capacity to rise again.”51 Resources are not mute repositories awaiting the benediction of economic evaluation. Capitalist production has treated nature as a “free gift,” meaning it has no “[re]production cost.” The ongoing task of repair and replenishment, as well as the forbearance before the promise of short-term rewards, are occluded by this lens. This is not some intellectual error or calculation mistake, this is simply the price of extracting surplus that encloses nature to leaven the accumulation of private riches.

Despite narratives of liberal apology and reform that locate the violence of colonial capitalism in the past, expropriation remains a common strategy, as Elizabeth Povinelli argues in Between Gaia and Ground.52 Campaigners like Maude Barlow use the word theft as a description of commodification and privatization, signaling the moment at which state-managed resources are often requisitioned for capital. This process maintains at least the formal contours of an exploitative exchange relationship. Nevertheless, real theft and expropriation remain an ongoing process, with “expropriation that then fuels expanded exploitation within new (often extractive) industries.” They argue that we must see this continued expropriation as part of colonization, premised on the destruction and invasion of Indigenous country, for which “water is not separate from land.”53

The occlusion of this relationship has led water managers and even some environmentalists alike to ignore what Paul Humphries describes as the “role that Indigenous people have played in the ecology of freshwater ecosystems in the Murray-Darling Basin,” melancholically illustrated by Gilmore’s recollections.54 These relationships cannot be simply abstracted from the specific local cultural practices and ecological sensitivity they encoded. They represent a barrier to the abstractions of managers and businesses in the allocation of entitlements, who seem to see water trades as transferring molecules (albeit in the billions) from one piece of property to another, one account to another. Water, embedded in the specific relations it sustains and that sustain it, does not mechanically obey.

Consolidating Colonization

The visible effects of this ongoing colonization necessary to put a price on water are on display at the Barmah Choke, or Barmah-Millewa Reach, on the Murray River. A narrow section of river, the choke is also an economic boundary with water trades above and below restricted to “back trades,” which require water to be traded in both directions.55 Demand for water below the choke to fund irrigation must be balanced against the fragile ecosystem in the choke (as well as “mitigate flooding of private land”). It is an important site for biodiversity, with wetlands fed by “a braided network of anabranch creeks.”56 A range of upstream activities, including land clearing, gold mining, de-snagging, and river regulation, exacerbated by 2022 flooding, have created a sand slug that is making its way through the choke.57 The sand buildup is partly an effect of historical land clearing and mining in the nineteenth century, restricting water flow by more than two thousand megaliters per day. In 2019 and 2020, an investigation showed more than twenty million cubic meters of sand built up near the choke being driven downstream.58 The sand acts like a flow visualization for the river’s accumulated sediments, a silted knot of impediment to the transformation of the wetlands area into a special economic zone.

In a separate but related situation, plans to store million tons of salt in a lined landfill in southern Queensland risk contaminating the Murray-Darling Basin with mining waste.59 The brine used for coal seam gas production would be crystallized and stored in the “cheapest short-term option,” as Stuart Khan remarked. This is the lesson failing to be learned by extractive capitalism, as it seeks the easiest, cheapest channel for waste disposal. Lined landfills, like the one proposed, require constant management inconsistent with the smash-and-grab strategies of mining corporations. Notable in the reporting is the emphasis on threats to property, with community groups like Lock the Gate marshalling landholders as a uniquely affected group opposed to coal seam gas and other fossil fuel extraction.60 Their opposition to new extractive industries threatening the production of food and fiber casts a historical veil over the originary expropriation that produces their property as private in the first place. In this instance, it is possible to see the protest against mining contamination as a defense of property rights, as Moore and Bieler have done.61 The integration of prior acts of colonization into a legitimate, stakeholder-style process of resource management reflects the complicity of the legal system in the consolidation of expropriation.

Laws and the legal system, including the sort of penalties applied to the Dendrobrium mine case and others, work to reintegrate the frontiers of extraction and economic evaluation in the aftermath of incidents of mass theft, toxicity, and violence. The price exacted in the form of a penalty is a tactical retreat in a wider business strategy that involves expropriation. This extends the colonial frontier of the social license to operate, the entrepreneurial testing of the limits of our commitment to a nature we can inhabit. Regulators like the National Resources Access Regulator preside over a moving line of “lawful,” though even its head Grant Barnes states that, “if you run a jurisdiction where there’s no consequence, it’s natural that people would take a chance.”62 Water theft has a price and, according to the logic of capitalism, it is worth paying.


1. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations, book 1, ch. 4 (1776), Marxists.org.

2. For an overview of coal-mining water use in the United States, see Wendy Wilson, Travis Leipzig, and Bevan Griffiths-Sattanspiel, Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity (Portland: River Network, 2012), 13–17.

3.Enforceable Undertaking under Section 336E of the Water Management Act 2000,” Natural Resources Access Regulator, June 2023.

4. Tim Fernandez, “South32 Agrees to Record Payout After Admitting to Draining Drinking Water without a Licence,” ABC, July 11, 2023; Elouise Fowler, “South32’s NSW Coal Mine Took Water without Permit,” Australian Financial Review, July 11, 2023.

5. This estimate is necessarily imprecise given variations in coal prices throughout the year, estimates of coal production at the mine, and average exchange rates between USD and AUD. However, it provides a rough figure. South32, Illawara Coal’s parent company, reported 2022 underlying earnings of $2.6 billion (USD), with an operating margin of 47 percent. See South32.net.

6. See “Coal: Analysis and Forecast to 2024,” International Energy Agency, 2021; Nick McLaren, Ainslie Drewitt-Smith, and Kelly Fuller, “Australian Company South32 Scraps Dendrobium Coal Mine Extension Plans in NSW,” ABC, August 23, 2023.

7. Kelly Fuller and Melinda James, “NSW Government Accused Of ‘Cynical’ Water Licence Scheme for Mines Under Drinking Catchment,” ABC, March 10, 2023.

8. David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (New York: Verso, 2006), 17.

9. Brenna Bhandar, Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land and Racial Regimes of Ownership (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), 81.

10. Karen Piper, Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 1–37; Vandana Shiva, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002), 53–86; Rohan D’Souza, Drowned and Dammed: Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006).

11. John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020), 165.

12. See Maude Barlow and Tony Clark, Blue Gold: The Battle Against the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water (New York: Routledge, 2002); Maude Barlow, Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever (New York: The New Press, 2011).

13. Derek Vollmer and Ian J. Harrison, “H2O ≠ CO2: Framing and Responding to the Global Water Crisis,” Environmental Research Letters 16 (2021).

14. Andreas Bieler and Madelaine Moore, “Water Grabbing, Capitalist Accumulation and Resistance: Conceptualising the Multiple Dimensions of Class Struggle,” Global Labour Journal 14, no. 1 (2023): 3.

15. Piper, Price of Thirst, 1–5.

16. Foster and Clark, The Robbery of Nature, 167.

17. Terry L. Anderson, “Dynamic Markets for Dynamic Environments: The Case for Water Marketing,” Daedalus 144, no. 3 (2015): 83–93.

18. Mary Gilmore, Old Days, Old Ways (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934).

19. Gilmore, Old Days, Old Ways, 194, quoted in Paul Humphries, “Historical Indigenous Use of Aquatic Resources in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, and Its Implications for River Management,” Ecological Management & Restoration 8, no. 2 (August 2007): 109.

20. See Peter Linebaugh, Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance (New York: PM Press, 2014); David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 137–182.

21. Ernestine Hill, Water into Gold (1937; repr. Melbourne: Robertson & Mullens, 1958).

22. David Claughton, “Flood Plain Harvesting and Why it Continues to Divide Murray-Darling Basin Communities and Irrigators,” ABC, July 14, 2020.

23. Kath Sullivan, “Murray-Darling Basin Plan Revived with Controversial Water Buybacks, but Won’t Include Victoria,” ABC, August 22, 2023.

24. Linton Besser, “Four Corners: Pumped,” ABC, July 24, 2017.

25. Rachel Clayton, “Suspected Unlicensed Dams Multiplying Across Stressed River System Reveal Holes in Victoria’s Water Compliance,” ABC, June 2, 2023.

26. Fleur Connick, “NSW Irrigator Hit with $350,000 Fine for Water Theft Offences,” Guardian, February 3, 2023.

27. Lin Crase, Phil Pagan, and Brian Dollery, “Water Markets as a Vehicle for Reforming Water Resource Allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia,” Water Resources Research 40 (2004): 1.

28. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, “Murray-Darling Basin Water Markets Inquiry: Final Report,” Commonwealth of Australia (February 2021): 3, 13–15.

29. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, “Murray-Darling Basin Water Markets Inquiry,” 78.

30. Anne Davies, “Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Labor Gives States More Time to Deliver Water Pledges Despite El Niño Fears,” Guardian, July 25, 2023.

31. Michael Slezak, “Water from Murray-Darling Basin Plan Not Being Delivered to Wetlands, Australian-First Report Finds,” ABC, November 17, 2020.

32. Daniel Keane, “Would the Murray-Darling Basin Survive Another Millennium Drought?,” ABC, June 6, 2022.

33. Maude Barlow, “Blue Covenant: The Alternative Water Future,” Monthly Review 60, no. 3 (July 2008).

34. See Suez, “Drinking Water.”

35. See “UniSuper Reinforces Investment in Prospect Water Filtration,” Investment Magazine, August 24, 2016.

36. Foster and Clark, The Robbery of Nature, 170.

37. Piper, Price of Thirst, 26.

38. Edward B. Barbier, The Water Paradox: Overcoming the Global Crisis in Water Management (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).

39. Anderson, “Dynamic Markets for Dynamic Environments.”

40. Anderson, “Dynamic Markets for Dynamic Environments,” 83.

41. Joshua Robertson, “What Lies Beneath: Tamborine Mountain and Its Fears Over Corporate ‘Spring Water,’” Guardian, March 21, 2023.

42. Ben Smee, “Running on Empty: Tamborine Mountain and the Growing Anger Over Water Mining,” Guardian, December 20, 2019.

43. Andrew Todd, “Groundwater Investigation: Tamborine Mountain, South East Queensland,” Institute for Sustainable Resources Queensland University of Technology, 2011.

44. Alexandra Shimo, “While Nestlé Extracts Millions of Litres from Their Land, Residents Have no Drinking Water,” Guardian, October 4, 2018.

45. Barlow, “Blue Covenant: The Alternative Water Future.”

46. Foster and Clark, The Robbery of Nature, 154.

47. For a discussion on Adam Smith’s water paradox, see Foster and Clark, The Robbery of Nature, 155. David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, ch. 1 (1817), Marxists.org.

48. Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, ch. 2, note 10.

49. See Foster and Clark, The Robbery of Nature, 163–64.

50. Bieler and Moore, “Water Grabbing, Capitalist Accumulation and Resistance,” 11.

51. Shiva, Water Wars, 137.

52. Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Between Gaia and Ground: Four Axioms of Existence and the Ancestral Catastrophe of Late Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), 41.

53. Bieler and Moore, “Water Grabbing, Capitalist Accumulation and Resistance,” 10, 16.

54. Humphries, “Historical Indigenous Use of Aquatic Resources in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin,” 107.

55. See Murray-Darling Basin Authority, “Barmah Choke Trade Rule,” Australian Government.

56. Department of Planning and Environment, “The Barmah Choke,” New South Wales Government, September 20, 2023.

57. Department for Environment and Water, “Restoring In-stream Habitat by Re-snagging the River Murray,” Government of South Australia; Fleur Connick, “A Giant ‘Sand Slug’ Born from Mining and Land Clearing Is Slowly Choking the Murray River,” Guardian, June 21, 2023.

58. See Thom Gower et al., “Barmah Choke Sediment Transport Investigation,” Streamology for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, 2020; James R. Grove, “A Fluvial Geomorphic Investigation into Channel Capacity Changes at the Barmah Choke Using Multiple Lines of Evidence,” Murray-Darling Basin Authority, September 24, 2021.

59. Khaled Al Khawaldeh, “Coal Seam Gas Waste Plan Risks Washing ‘5m Tonnes of Salt into the Murray-Darling Basin,’” Guardian, April 8, 2023.

60. Locke the Gate, “Who We Are.”

61. Bieler and Moore, “Water Grabbing, Capitalist Accumulation and Resistance,” 5–6.

62. Pip Courtney, “Technology Boosts Ends ‘Wild West’ of Unlawful Water Use in NSW, Says Natural Resources Access Regulator,” ABC, June 18, 2022.