Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre

Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre

19 Feb 2010

The Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia’s most important catchment areas, in terms of both the natural environment and providing fresh water for agricultural production and human consumption across four states.

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It is in this challenging context that Dr Ben Gawne leads the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre located at both Albury-Wodonga and Mildura campuses of La Trobe University.

Dr Ben Gawne:
The main role the centre is to generate knowledge, so to undertake research projects that help improve our freshwater ecosystems in the Murray-Darling basin. The second major role is to package that information up to enable us to apply that to manager’s questions, so we’re answering those questions as best we possibly can, and our third major role is to communicate that knowledge in the best possible way, so that managers understand what we know about the system, and then can use that to guide either their management actions, or the development of policy.

Narrator:
The key focus of the Centre is on freshwater ecological science to protect and enhance the Basin’s natural assets while supporting sustainable use of its resources. Good science underpins effective management and is critical given the challenges of the on-going drought within the Basin and climate change.

Dr Ben Gawne:
The major focus for the centre at the moment is the Murray-Darling basin authority and it’s development of a basin plan. The basin plan has a number of components to it, all of which are very challenging, but those components include determining what the sustainable water requirements of freshwater ecosystems are, then once they’ve worked that out managing environmental flows to achieve those objectives, and then to manage water quality, make sure the water quality remains both good enough for human consumption and the environment, and finally to monitor progress towards meeting their management objectives.

Narrator:
Dr Gawne believes that while the research they’re doing is making a difference, the Murray-Darling Basin is a fragile system, and needs to be protected to ensure its future sustainability.

Dr Ben Gawne:
I think the major environmental challenge is getting the balance right between all the different users, so the environment needs water, but so do people for both agriculture and consumptive use. And the fact that we’ve made mistakes in the way we’ve managed the system in the past means we’re dealing with a highly degraded system that probably needs to be rehabilitated and doing that when the system is already over allocated, there’s already more demand for water than there is water in the system, we’re dealing with a highly variable climate so the amount of water varies to extremes from flood years to drought years, and also the potential threat of climate change so overall there may end up being less water in the system, which means the problems of over allocation are going to become more extreme, and the environment is going to really struggle to get the water that it requires to sustain itself. So trying to get that balance right and find the optimal balance between consumptive use is probably the biggest challenge.

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