Murray-Darling future grim, says report


Climate change

Murray River

The Murray River in South Australia, well below the waterline.

Credit: iStockphoto

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The future of Australia's threateningly parched Murray-Darling Basin is looking grim, according to a rigorous assessment of the anticipated effects of climate change in the area.

The Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Yields Project - led by the CSIRO - has used 111 years of daily climate data to model four future scenarios for the availability and use of water in the basin, an area used to grow much of our nation's food and that is home to many endangered native plants and animals.

"We are facing a critical situation in the Murray-Darling Basin after years of over-allocation and drought and in the face of climate change,” said Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water.

The project has found that today's agricultural activities and water sharing practices in the Basin have caused water to stop flowing through the mouth of the Murray River a whopping 40 per cent of the time. The researchers predict this will be exacerbated a further 24 per cent by the year 2030, under the effects of climate change.

And it is not irrigators or other water users in the region that will suffer most from future climate impacts, the researchers say. It is the environment that will bear the brunt of the assault, taking up to a 20 per cent hit in terms of reduction in water flows.

At particular risk are the Basin's 30,000-plus wetland habitats, 15 of which are listed as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Many of these wetland systems rely on natural flooding events to support life.

But the flow of the Basin's rivers has changed through the use of dams and weirs. Compounded by the effects of a decade of drought, this means flood volumes have been greatly reduced - the average annual flood volume is now less than a quarter of what it once was.

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