Australia demonstrates the planet's future: Water and climate in the Murray-Darling basin

Jamie Pittock*, Daniel Connell

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    51 Citations (Scopus)


    Australia's rivers are among the most variable in the world and this has been a major challenge in catchments such as the Murray-Darling Basin where management has focused on increasing agricultural production while reducing risks from fluctuating water availability. Pressure for development and over-optimistic assessments of available water have resulted in over-allocation and increasing ecological decline, which has been severely exacerbated by record-breaking drought. In recent years, governments have agreed to radical policies such as the National Water Initiative 2004 and allocated substantial funds in response. Implementation is in gridlock, however, as the socio-economic implications have become clearer. Most debate is focused on the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan due for release in mid-2010 before finalization in 2011. It will be the first Basin-wide plan and is intended to deal with inequities across borders and risks such as climate change and drought. Climate change scenarios for 2030 foresee a range of potential surface water availability outcomes, ranging from a 7% increase to a 37% decrease, yet greater water scarcity is being experienced in the current (2002+) drought with inflows reduced by 70% or more in extreme years. Contradictory policies are hindering the more open adaptation required to manage a drier future.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)561-578
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Water Resources Development
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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