The Murray-Darling Basin and the need for research to inform climate adaption

It seems timely to be talking about water research at La Trobe as floodwaters resulting from our third La Niña year in a row, and one of the wettest Octobers on record, impact large parts of Victoria and the Murray-Darling Basin.

Professor Nick Bond, Director – Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems and Research Theme Lead, ‘Resilient Environments and Communities’

This widespread flooding is a salient reminder that while climate change will on average lead to a hotter and drier conditions with less water, it will also increase climate variability and the occurrence of extreme weather events - both wet and dry - as the climate changes. Such shifts will have profound impacts on our ecosystems, and on regional economies and communities, and will be most felt through the types of extreme events we are currently experiencing.

Understanding these impacts, and how policy makers can best prepare for them is a major focus for a large multidisciplinary research team at La Trobe working as part of the Commonwealth Govt funded Murray-Darling Water and Environment Research Program (MD-WERP). MD-WERP is a 4-year, $20 million Australian Government initiative to strengthen scientific knowledge of the Murray–Darling Basin through generating new knowledge, innovation and tools across the themes of climate adaptation, hydrology, environmental outcomes, and social, economic and cultural outcomes.

Through this program, La Trobe is leading a consortium that includes Griffith University, Murray and Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) to undertake research focussed on environmental outcomes, and social, economic and cultural outcomes for First Nations.

A major focus for the research is to understand how climate change will impact on the basin’s ecosystems - including more frequent and extreme low flow events, changes in the frequency and extent of floodplain connection events, and changes in species distributions and resulting conservation priorities. The research team is also seeking to better understand the social and economic benefits of healthy ecosystems, and how history and past legacies shape the way that communities respond and adapt to future change. With much of the research planning occurring during record drought conditions, the current flooding is a sharp reminder of the need to understand and plan for both extremes.

While it is early days for the research program, it has been exciting to see such a diverse and multidisciplinary team of researchers being brought together to address such a critical issue for the future of Murray-Darling Basin. The scope of research is also strongly aligned to two of our Research Themes, and so it is exciting to see the alignment between the themes we identified as a strength within the university, and externally funded programs like MD WERP.

We have also worked closely with end users, including water managers and policy makers to understand their needs and to design the research in a way that has clear pathways to impact as the results come to light.

So, watch this space; there will be much to report from this program over the next few years, and I’ll look forward to seeing the various projects progress and new collaborations mature.

La Trobe Industry contact: Hope Terdich, Manager – Marketing and Communications, h.terdich@latrobe.edu.au