Through the glass darkly- uncertainty, climate chaos & Water policy reform challenges
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Through the glass darkly- uncertainty, climate chaos & Water policy reform challenges. Presenter: Jason Alexandra MDBA November 2009. Overview. Background Context and Challenges A Brief History of water resources policy Water reform in context Climate change Conclusions.

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Through the glass darkly- uncertainty, climate chaos & Water policy reform challenges

Presenter: Jason Alexandra

MDBA November 2009


Overview
Overview Water policy reform challenges

  • Background

  • Context and Challenges

  • A Brief History of water resources policy

  • Water reform in context

  • Climate change

  • Conclusions


Understanding the variability and ecological limits of Australia…

"Charles Darwin …. Visited Sydney in 1836. After an uncomfortable tramp over the Blue Mountains in a heat wave, he concluded that Australia could never become another America - its soil was too poor, its rains too unpredictable. Instead it must depend on becoming "the centre of commerce for the southern hemisphere and perhaps on her future manufactories.“

As quoted in McCalman, The Age, 10 August 2002.


Despite these warnings “Successive Governments sponsored closer settlement and intensive irrigation development, with dreams of taming the rivers, greening the desert, and making land productive, running deep in the national psyche (Lines 1994) notwithstanding, punishing droughts and misconceptions about the severity of the natural constraints to settlement and production (Taylor 1940).  Generations of school children have been taught of love for “a land of drought and flooding rain” (McKellar 1987). Reflecting Australia’s climate pulsing through its wetter and drier phases. Our natural ecosystems have evolved superb adaptations to the inherent climatic variation (Cullen 1998).”

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Successive Australian governments have attempted to “tame the rivers and made the deserts productive”.

The majority of the MDB is flat, semi arid and developed for agriculture and pastoralism.

The “wet” parts, like the main rivers, floodplains and wetlands are critical habitats – with their pulse of drought and flood.

Major legacy issues

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Modified catchments, nutrient and suspended sediment loads and habitat

Very high nutrient and suspended sediment loads

Largely unmodified in all aspects

Catchment Condition


Australian water era and habitat

  • 1890’s – 1980’s Development era – “drought, royal commission, new dam”

  • 1992 Industry Commission – TWE

  • 1994 COAG reforms – environmental flows, unbundling water and land “titles”; corporatisation and cost recovery

  • 1995 – MDB “Cap” on development

  • National Water Initiative 2004 – reaffirms reform agenda and markets’ role in reallocating water


Irrigation and habitat

  • The biggest user of diverted fresh water

  • Produces more than half the profit in Australian Agriculture & Horticulture, from 0.5% of land (NLWRA 2002)


18,000,000 and habitat

12,000,000

Capacity (ML)

6,000,000

1890

1912

1934

1956

1978

2000

Government funded development of dams

Major periods of water diversions

(note Murray average inflows approx 9,000,000 ml)

Murray

Darling


Global demand for food
Global demand for food and habitat

Surge in cereal and oil prices Commodity prices (US$/ton)

  • Source: Data from FAO 2007 and IMF 2007.


The mdbc has an engineering heritage

An engineered system and habitat

The MDBC has an Engineering Heritage


The Murray – an “exotic river” and habitat

  • Less than 10% of it’s catchment yields > 90% flow

  • Large in scale but less flow in an average year than the Amazon in a day

  • Highly variable – heavily exploited water resources

  • Highly developed but thus high vulnerability

  • Future health influenced by climate change, landuse, bush fires, forestry and water resources policy reform



Maximum reduction in yield: and habitat

Vic 2003 fires: Reductions of up to 1237 GL/y in 20 years


The wetlands – degrading (Kingsford) and habitat

Narran Lakes

Gwydir wetlands

Macquarie Marshes

Lowbidgee floodplain

Coorong

Chowilla

floodplain

Kulkyne Lakes

Barmah-Millewa Forest

  • ~28,000

  • 6.3 million ha

  • 98% floodplains

  • ~3% protected


Macquarie marshes changes
Macquarie Marshes -Changes and habitat

1,500,000

1,200

Flow (ML) to Marshes

Rainfall index

20,000

20

1945

2005

500

1983

2007

20

80,000

1983

1991

1999

2007

1995

2008

1986

No. of waterbirds

Major dams

Average

22,465

4,990

567

Number of species

No. of nests

No breeding


Is this drought different
Is this Drought Different? and habitat

Key River Murray Catchment Area


An irrigation drought several dry years
An Irrigation Drought – several dry years and habitat

June 2008

2,220 GL


Trade in water supports Greenfield developments and adjustment

New horticulture up to 14 kilometres from the river

Estimates of up 32000 hectares since trade started

Nearly all outside “historic irrigation districts”


Water for the future: adjustmentAll figures in A$ million

Costing over ten years TOTAL: approx A$12.9 billion (about US$9 billion)

http://www.aha.net.au/



Water resource planning
Water Resource Planning adjustment

BEFORE

THE BASIN PLAN IS MADE

(some shared strategies)

Basin-

wide

issues

SA

VIC

QLD

NSW

ACT

Water

resource

Water Resource Plans

Water Sharing Plans

Bulk Entitlements

Water Allocation Plans

Water Sharing Plan

plan

area

issues

Local

generally 2014

2019

up to 2014

2014

TBA

issues

10 years

15 years

5 years

10 years

TBA

Industry and Individual water rights holders


Post basin plan
Post Basin Plan adjustment


Information demands
Information demands adjustment

New quality assured information required

  • To support the plan

  • Risk assignment

  • Determine how much water is available

  • How much has been reduced by climate change


Water act 2007
Water Act 2007 adjustment

Enable Commonwealth in conjunction with States to manage Basin’s water resources in the national interest

Give effect to international agreements, optimise economic, social and environmental outcomes

Ensure environmental sustainability and in this context, maximise net economic returns to the Australian community

improve water security for all uses of Basin’s water resources

(after Water Act 2007)


Climate is Hotter and Drier adjustment

Satellite estimate of soil moisture

Global average temperature

Australian average temperature


Future projections

Global emissions tracking on the higher IPCC scenarios adjustment

Warmer drier conditions in the future under all global emission scenario’s

Majority of models project reduced runoff for SE Australia, including Murray system headwaters

Projected changes in run-off at 2030 under scenario A1B, showing the number of climate models (out of 15) yielding an increase or decease in run-off; from F. Chiew.

Future Projections



Drier autumns
Drier Autumns adjustment

Monthly mean south eastern Australia rainfall, 1961-1990, 1996-2006 and anomaly


Rainfall streamflow hypothetical catchment

70 units adjustment

evaporation,

transpiration &

soil moisture

threshold

70 units

evaporation,

transpiration &

soil moisture

threshold

100 rainfall units

90 rainfall units

10% less rainfall

30% less streamflow

Rainfall & Streamflow(hypothetical catchment)

30 units

streamflow

20 units

streamflow


Lower rainfall much lower streamflow
Lower rainfall = adjustmentmuch lower Streamflow

CSIRO and Australian Bureau of Meteorology, 2007)


Declining inflows for the Murray adjustment

Source: http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/DSE/wcmn202.nsf/fid/13B5D5D8F4A2D943CA25742C007CF6EA


Increased demand for groundwater as surface water availability reduces?

Higher evaporation. More farm dams as surface water availability reduces?

Increased forest evapo-transpiration due to higher temps?

Higher frequency and intensity of bushfires due to higher temps and worse droughts?

Greater irrigation efficiency as surface water availability reduces?

Other Impacts of Climate Change

Climate

change

?

?

?

?

?


Water market dynamics availability reduces?

  • Water market dynamics in a climate of change and uncertainty:

  • Value up due to scarcity – needed to protect high capital permanent plantings

  • Impacts of government buybacks – $3 billion

  • Higher prices for outputs due to global food scarcity

  • Greenfields developments competing for available water


Australia is now responding to a multifaceted availability reduces?

“water crisis” - symptoms include record low inflows

in the Murray-Darling Basin, water restrictions

in cities severe stress on many rural communities

and aquatic ecosystems – eg Lower lakes.

A “water crisis” without precedent, despite

“a long and proud history of water planning, the

impending crisis was largely unforeseen and its origins

are still poorly understood” (Schofield et al 2008).


Causes of the “crisis” - climate and land use change, availability reduces?

Australia’s inherent climate variability, with long droughts high rates of vulnerability – development based on high rates of water use.

Concerns about the reliability of Southern Australia’s water resources

Science more emphatic about the impacts of climate change, particularly the drying and intensification of droughts in the mid-latitudes.

Fears that the speed and scale at which climate change impacts are intensifying.


Conclusions availability reduces?

  • Pressure for better information on water, but;

  • Impacts of climate change? Or chaos

  • Expression of natural variability?

  • Need to operate under uncertainty and extremes

  • Intense political and community interest

  • Drought responses – rural and urban

  • Trade and irrigation structural adjustment

  • Can we rebalance extractions and environmental water ?


Conclusions availability reduces?

Extremely low water availability in the southern MDB

Impacts of the drought/climate change are

unprecedented

Long term reductions in rainfall and runoff likely

Policy and climate induced water scarcity

Intense competition for water

Adaptation and innovation is required and inevitable

Water policy, rural industries and irrigated agriculture will evolve

Range of policies required to support adjustment and adaptation



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