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Adaptation frameworks for the Murray-Darling Basin · PDF file Australia's Murray-Darling Basin: freshwater ecosystem conservation options in an era of climate change, Marine and Freshwater

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  • Workshop on the legal and institutional dimensions of adaptation and extreme event management, 24 November 2011

    Adaptation frameworks for the Murray-Darling Basin

    Dr Jamie Pittock, Crawford School of Economics and Government, ANU - [email protected]

  • Three elements:

    1. Murray-Darling Basin is a key test case 2. Exemplifies the dangers of:

    – Mis-translating science into policy; – Overly focussing on ‘magic bullet’ adaptation

    3. Need to adopt a suite of no regrets, different but complementary measures


  • Percentage change in average annual runoff ‘‘2050s’’ (2040–2069) compared with 1961–1990; A2 scenarios.

    Source: Arnell, N. W. (2004). Climate change and global water resources: SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environmental Change 14 (2004) 31–52.

  • National policy National Water Initiative (2004): • The risks of reductions in water allocations from climate

    change to lie with water access entitlement holders • Water resource accounts must consider climate change • States and Territories in preparing water plans must

    consider risks like climate and land use changes Water Act (2007, s22(1)): • Mandatory content of Basin Plan includes “The risks

    dealt with must include the risks to the availability of Basin water resources that arise from the following: [...] (b) the effects of climate change”


  • MDB climate and water scenarios

    CSIRO scenario Average surface water availability in 2030

    End of system flows in 2030

    2006 “Risks to shared water resources:

    -10 to -23% n/a

    2008 extreme wet +7% +20%

    2008 median -12% -37%

    2008 extreme dry -24% -69%

    (Actual, early 2010) (inflows -63%) (no outflows)

  • Murray-Darling Basin

    Source: MDBC


    Encrusted tortoise. © S & C Grundy.

    Children cleaning tortoises, Strathalbyn PS. © B. Gunn.

    Average = 10,900 Gl pa

    Recently = 4,000 Gl pa

    FY08 = 2,220 Gl

  • Mechanisms for managing variability

    MDBA proposes: 1.Permanent allocation reductions 2.Proportional annual entitlement reductions (variability) 3.Basin Plan revision


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  • All undermined by incomplete markets

    8Farm dam, ACT & plantation forest, VIC. © J Pittock

    Intercepted water use “equates to almost one quarter of all the entitled water on issue in Australia” (NWC 2010). 

    Emergence of new risks, eg. thirsty carbon sequestration

    (“carbon farming”) plantations, coal seam gas  Climate change policies inducing more rapid change

  • MDBA interpretation of climate change

    “While there is uncertainty associated with different predictions of the magnitude of climate change effects by 2030, there is general agreement that surface-water availability across the entire Basin is more likely to decline, with Basin-wide change of 10% less water predicted.”

    (MDBA Guide to the Basin Plan, 2010:xxv). 9

  • Permanent allocation reductions

    • CSIRO said “median” scenario = -12% water • No more or less likely than the extreme “wet” or

    “dry” scenarios • Government adopts median, as “most likely”? • MDBA “logic”: -12% (-10%) from 1990-2030 - 6% from now (2012-2030) - 3% for 1st Plan period (2012-2021)

    • Entitlement holders bear 3% now, Federal Government bears all subsequent reductions


  • How much should be reallocated? Current and proposed environmental water reallocations Gl/yr %

    Current (pre-“drought”) surface water diversions 11,146 100 Reallocation to the environment recommended by Jones et al. (2003) for good ecological health of six icon sites

    4,000 36

    The Living Murray “first step” reallocation currently underway (2003-2010) 500 4 Additional “average annual volume” in water entitlements purchased by the Federal Government for the environment in 2007-10 at $2.37 million/Gl

    535 5

    Potential water entitlement purchases from 2007 from the Federal Government’s $3.1 B allocation at $2.37 M/Gl

    1,308 12

    Reallocation to the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth recommended by Kingsford et al (2009)

    700 6

    Reallocation to the NSW red gum forests of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers recommended by NRC (2009)

    1,200 11

    Reallocation recommended by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists (2010)

    MDBA Guide to the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan (Oct 2010)


    3,000- 4,000


    27- 37

    MDBA draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan (Nov 2011) (subject to five year review) 2,800 25 11

  • Institutional resilience strategies Strategies Positive attributes Negative attributes I. Resistance and

    maintenance Purpose, stability, optimization of resources, low risk of mal-adaptation

    Denial, resistance to change, ignorance, awaiting crisis before responding

    II. Change at the margins Accepts change, uses manageable, incremental responses

    May not cope with major shifts, address symptoms, poor long-term strategy

    III. Openness and adaptability

    Recognizes uncertainty and addressing underlying causes, rapid change

    Inefficient frequent change, possible maladaptation.

    Source: Dovers & Hezri 2010. DOI:10.1002/wcc.29 12

  • Sharing the losses – national policy 2009 MDB Plan concept paper & 2004 National Water

    Initiative (s.48) - future reductions in water entitlements due to climate change will be borne by:

    • water entitlement holders for reductions due to climate change or “periodic natural events”;

    • a government as the result of changes in that government’s policy; and

    • water entitlement holders and governments if improvements in knowledge require reductions in water take to achieve environmentally sustainable levels.


  • Sharing the losses – MDBA policy

    MDBA Guide (2010, p. 109): “A principle of equitable sharing of any reduction in water availability between consumptive and environment uses has been adopted by the Authority” to manage climatic variability.


    Pope, Canberra Times

  • Annual entitlement reductions

    • Water entitlements as a share of the available water

    • However ‘rules- based water’ is subject to state government cuts

    • Entitlements water with the CEHW (> Daniel Connell) 15

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  • Basin Plan revision

    • Water Act requires revisions at least every ten years,

    • Craig Knowle’s five year proposal, but

    • Plan will not be implemented by states before 2019- 2024!


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  • HRSCoRA (Windsor Inquiry) report “This report shows that there is an alternative way to

    achieve this without the pain many perceived would result from the Guide if it in fact became the Plan. [...] win-win solutions can be found to offset the reductions of a future Basin Plan and provide for the environment. From the very south to the top of the Basin, the Committee heard of water savings that could be found through environmental works and measures and on-farm efficiency works. [...] The Committee recommends that they be explored prior to considering any reduction in productive water allocation.”

    (HRSCoRA 2011:x). 17

  • Environmental works and measures “The Living Murray [...] ‘works + water’ – a combination that

    is probably unprecedented at this scale anywhere in the world. Certainly no other program to date has taken on the challenge of engineering landscape-scale flooding of multiple Ramsar-listed sites ” (MDBA, 2011:56).

    “The objective of the works and measures is to multiply the environmental benefits achievable from the water available to The Living Murray. [...] The water management structures being built at the floodplain sites are intended to enable controlled landscape-scale flooding using environmental water – often in much smaller volumes than would be required without these works” (MDBA, 2011:56).


  • Environmental water demand management

    “Interventions that sustain freshwater biodiversity but that apply volumetrically less water than would naturally be required, or by managing and mixing waters of differing qualities”

    (Pittock & Lankford 2009). 19

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  • Murray-Darling Basin


    Source: Pittock & Finlayson (2011)

  • The Living Murray EWM, 2003+

    Site Area (ha) Channels Regulators Levees Pumps Fishways

    Koondroo k ‐


    16,000 3.6 km  new

    9? Yes ‐ ‐

    Gunbower 7,250 Yes, new Yes

    Hattah  Lakes

    6,000 Yes

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