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Climate variability and change

Water management must be adaptive of variations in climate patterns.

The Basin Plan provides for an adaptive approach by:

  • building upon and refining the Basin governments' present practices when responding to a variable climate
  • providing a buffer for ecological resilience and recovery by reducing consumptive take by 20%
  • introducing new arrangements and ensuring adequate monitoring to inform regular effectiveness reviews of the Plan.

Through our collaborative investment in new technology, river operations are becoming more responsive to shifting climate conditions. Lessons from the millennium drought have seen Basin governments implement new arrangements to facilitate critical water decisions when extreme events occur.

Our changing climate is affecting rainfall, stream flows, water demands and water quality in the Murray–Darling Basin, and these effects will be felt differently across the many regions of the Basin.

The Productivity Commission report on barriers to effective climate change adaptation, concluded that governments can respond to changing circumstances by using flexible policy frameworks such as adaptive management and market-based approaches.

The Basin Plan is a key framework for adapting to a changing climate. It allows for uncertainties in climate science and how climatic influences would play out in the Basin.

The MDBA is playing an important role in adapting to climate change; we consider it in our policy making, water resource planning, operations and asset management. We have published a paper that sets out the complete suite of climate change measures taken into consideration in the Basin Plan.

Our operation of the River Murray system continues to adapt to changing inflow and demand patterns. Water managers and users have traditionally looked to historical rainfall and streamflow data to provide guidance on what coming seasons might bring — but in a changing climate this approach becomes less and less reliable. We are working closely with the Bureau of Meteorology in their development of climate and streamflow forecasting tools.

We are investing in new operational and planning models using the eWater Source platform to make full use of the Bureau’s outlooks. Ultimately this means water users can make decisions based on climate conditions at that time — rather than the climate of the past.

Planning for severe drought is an important area in water resource management. The MDBA and Basin states have implemented new reserve, policy and legislative arrangements in the wake of the millennium drought. It is also an annual requirement that New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia set aside sufficient water each year to meet the critical human water needs of communities who depend on the River Murray system.

We will continue to incorporate improved information on drought risks in a changing climate.