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Climate change challenges ahead for Murray-Darling Basin

By: Thanh Loan Nguyen
05 August, 2010

Feature of the week: Leading Australian and International Climate Change experts have come together for a timely workshop, to discuss adaption options for wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin in Canberra.

In the seminar experts and academics shared their analysis of key management issues for wetlands and the climate change challenges for our Basin in the future.

Institute of Land, Water and Society Director Professor and wetland ecologist Max Finlayson says that it will be very difficult to manage the wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin sustainably.

"Wetlands in the Basin are already under intense pressure from past and current management practices, including water allocations, and the drought.

"Climate change is expected to exacerbate all these issues and further complicate how we manage our wetlands with large parts of the Basin, particularly in the south-east, expected to be warmer and drier in the future," said Finlayson.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics climate change report, without sufficient flows, water-dependent ecosystems may lose their capacity, which could be costly to overturn.

"In 2004-2005, the distribution of water consumption in the Australian economy was 65% by agriculture, 11% by households and 10% by other industries (mining, service industries etc). Australia's agriculture industry is particularly dependent on irrigation water to sustain production.

"Whilst most agricultural water is used for irrigation of crops and pasture, water is also used for livestock drinking and washing down dairy sheds.

"In the same year it was reported that a third of all farms carried out water-related management activities, spending a total of $314 million," said the report.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard believes that an implementation of adaptation measures is necessary to successfully manage the Murray Darling Basin.

"My starting point is that climate change is real and it is caused to a significant extent by human activity. That human activity is an essential part of economic development. It has brought prosperity and security to generations of people in our country. But we also know now that it has other consequences.

"Without action to reduce our pollution, irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin is projected to fall by over 90 per cent by 2100," said Gillard.

Finlayson said the workshop was a good opportunity for experts to come together to share their ideas and plans on how to deal with climate change.

"We will identify the opportunities and constraints facing wetlands and how they can adapt (including physical or mechanical adaptations), as well as our social and institutional capacity to manage adaptation," he said. 

"While this workshop is mainly an ecological and technical meeting about wetlands identifying the key issues, further steps will need to include more social involvement and involve the broader community," Finlayson said.

Farmers however are irate over an election-related delay over plans for the Murray Darling Basin. National Farmers Federation President David Crombie said that farmers are frustrated that the proposed plans for Murray Darling Basin will not be revealed until after the August 21 election.

"Irrigators and regional communities are crying out for information and opportunity to have a say on their future," said Crombie.

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