Water Journal : Water Journal September 2015
31 Opinion september 2015 WATER path dependency programs are undertaking ‘overly narrow’ adaptation and ‘maladaptation’ (Nelson, 2010; Barnett and O’Neill, 2010). Instead, monies allocated to irrigation and floodplain environmental works and measures programs should be redirected towards the many alternative ways of generating environmental and socio-economic benefits. 5. Focused on a median climate change scenario In assessing potential climate change impacts on water availability, CSIRO did not assign probabilities to the range of projections, noting that they are each possible (CSIRO, 2008). In 2010, the Authority commented that: “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, 2010a: 33). This misinterpretation equates ‘median’ scenario as ‘predicted’ for planning purposes. Risk management practice requires consideration of affordable measures that can reduce the risks arising from less probable, but more damaging, outcomes (Pittock and Finlayson, 2011b). This interpretation also shows that the Authority considers that the climate is likely to change in a gradual, linear manner rather than considering the risk of a greater rate of change over time, as seen with the reduction of inflows into Perth’s reservoirs (Petrone et al., 2010). Instead, there is a need for adaptation measures to be based on ‘no regrets’ and robust adaptation measures that may offer benefits under a range of climatic outcomes. Analytical tools exist to select such measures in the Basin (Lukasiewicz et al., 2013) and should be applied. 6. No water allocated to reduce the future impacts of climate change In 2010 the Authority proposed an additional reallocation of three per cent of consumptive water to offset climate change impacts in the life of the Plan based on a (mis)interpretation of CSIRO’s ‘median’ projection (Pittock and Finlayson, 2011b). The Authority abandoned efforts to reallocate water for climate change adaptation in 2011 (MDBA, 2011b), stating that it has: “formed the view that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the potential effects of climate change, and that more knowledge is needed to make robust water planning and policy decisions that include some quantified allowance for climate change. Until there was greater certainty MDBA considered that the historical climate record remains the most useful climate benchmark for planning purposes” (MDBA, 2012a: 123). Given the Authority’s position, we question under what circumstances it would ever be prepared to make a pre-emptive reallocation to reduce the likely impacts of climate change. Given the uncertainty, it would be wise to cease issuing new water entitlements, such as for groundwater, to retain greatest flexibility to reallocate water to manage climate change in the future. Retaining the option of acquiring further water is needed, but is precluded by a bill to cap the purchase of water entitlements for environmental flows to 1,500 GL (Hunt et al., 2015). Reallocation of water to account for climate change will get harder, not easier, as funds from the Australian Government’s multi-billion dollar Water for the Future package are exhausted and if water availability declines (Grafton, 2015). Further, adjustment of the SDLs is now legally complex and administratively difficult (Young, 2011). Immediate consideration should be given to applying new mechanisms, such as those canvased by Young (2011) and others, to adjust the allocation of water between consumptive use and the flows necessary for healthy river ecosystems to account for change climate. This issue will continue to cause uncertainty in Basin communities if left unaddressed. 7. Overlooked ecosystem-based adaptations The 2008 reforms of Basin management in the Water Act, as represented by the Plan, involved a narrowing of the broader natural resources management agenda to a focus on water quality and quantity (Connell and Grafton, 2011). As a result, a number of critical and complementary, non-volumetric measures to aid climate change adaptation are not adequately included in current Basin management programs. Major investments should be made in these measures, including: restoring riparian vegetation and instream habitat; modifying or removing water infrastructure to restore connectivity for aquatic wildlife; construction of thermal pollution control devices on dams to enable control over the temperature of discharged water to sustain aquatic wildlife; focusing restoration efforts on climatic refugia; and protection of the remaining free-flowing rivers (Pittock and Finlayson, 2011a; Lukasiewicz et al., 2013). CONCLUSION The problems with Basin water management for climate change begin with the insufficient allocation of water to restore and maintain freshwater ecosystems under the current climate. This poses large risks for both water extractors and the environment. These challenges are exacerbated in two key ways. First, the 2012 Basin Plan includes no measures to address projected climate change, even though the modelling to do so was available. Second, the Water for the Future package has committed billions of dollars for infrastructure subsidies and is establishing path dependencies with water allocations and infrastructure that will need to be undone at great cost with moderate climate change. The history of attempts to better manage water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin since the time of Australian federation is one of human-induced environmental crises catalysing reforms that are weakened by political compromises (Connell, 2007). The current Basin Plan does not contain sufficiently robust measures to adapt to projected climate change. The only meaningful climate change measure adopted in the 2012 Basin Plan is a requirement to revise the plan every 10 years to incorporate new knowledge. This is simply not good enough in the world’s driest inhabited continent and a country subject to extreme weather-related risks. In response, we call for the immediate adoption of seven additional measures, rather than waiting until 2022. THE AUTHORS Jamie pittock (email: email@example.com. au) is an Associate Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University. His research focuses on the positive synergies and conflicts between policies related to agriculture, biodiversity conservation, climate change, energy and water. John Williams is an Adjunct Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. He is a former Chief of CSIRO Land & Water and the former New South Wales Natural Resources Commissioner. r Quentin Grafton is a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. He has an abiding interest in water management issues and is the Founder and Executive Editor of Global Water Forum (www.globalwaterforum.org).
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