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Climate Change

murray darling river

Full Project Title: Predicting the response of water quality and groundwater dependent ecosystems to climate change and land management practices: An integrated modelling approach

Theme 1 : Drivers of change - understanding and integrating the economic, social, health and drivers of change in the Murray-Darling Basin Theme 2 : Environmental watering and allocation - understanding and optimizing watering requirements, biodiversity, ecosystem services and productive water uses in the Murray-Darling Basin

This project was led Dr Fiona Dyer

A snapshot of research results: Groundwater's role in supporting the environment during drought

Photo taken outside Cootamundra by Dr Jacki Schirmer while on a Field Trip with the MDBfutures CRN in September 2012This research project will provide methods for predicting the magnitude of water quality changes caused by changes in climate, framed within the context of groundwater dependent ecosystem outcomes. It will also develop an understanding of the complex relationship between community values, climate driven biophysical responses and water management. This knowledge underpins planning for environmental water allocations as well as other uses of water.

In addition, the project will enhance our understanding of the magnitude of water quality changes and ecological responses driven by climate changes and management actions.

Freshwater ecosystems are structured by the hydrologic regimes and water quality they experience. Hence the management of freshwater ecosystems is usually targeted through the regulation of water quantity (limiting diversions and providing environmental flows) and regulation of water quality (setting limits or targets for constituent concentrations). Effort is generally directed at managing surface waters to protect in-stream ecosystems, with little attention directed to groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDE's). Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDE's) comprise a diverse, complex and often forgotten subset of Australia's freshwater ecosystems, ranging from baseflow rivers to wetlands and cave systems. GDE's depend on groundwater to maintain composition and function and as such they are also structured by the timing, quantity, quality and distribution of water.

The potential impact of climate change on surface water and groundwater quantity has received considerable attention both locally and internationally, driven by a focus within the water resource sector on securing water for human needs. In contrast, the effects of climate change on water quality (either surface or groundwater) are poorly understood, yet there is potential for significant ecological and socioeconomic costs as a result of poor water quality. In addition, the responses of communities and natural resource managers to climate induced changes are also poorly understood. These are important knowledge gaps for water resource and environmental managers, impeding long term planning and strategy development.

The lack of integrated quantitative tools for predicting the relationship between future climate scenarios, land use and management practices and water quality limits our ability to determine the extent and implications of water quality changes. It also prevents the potential ecological consequences of any changes from being determined, which will be complicated by feedback inherent between climate change, water quality, water volumes, human use and biota. Without this information it is difficult for planning and management agencies to make informed decisions regarding the quantity and quality of water for supply and discharge for sustainable management needs, now and into the future.

This project will address this significant knowledge gap by developing a linked modelling framework for evaluating the response of water quality and groundwater dependent ecosystems to climate (most notably likely increases in extreme event frequency and severity), land use and water use/allocation policies.

Picture taken outside Cootamundra by Dr Jacki Schirmer while on a Field Trip with the MDBfutures CRN in September 2012.


MDBfutures is supported by the Australian Government's Collaborative Research Networks program.