Climate change and healthy catchments

1 JANUARY 2003

Climate change is expected to have a major impact on the health of rivers in South Eastern Australia, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin. The emphasis to date seems to have been on environmental flows as a means of keeping our rivers healthy, but what are the other options and are they practical and cost-effective?

Climate change is expected to have a major impact on the health of rivers in South Eastern Australia, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin. The emphasis to date seems to have been on environmental flows as a means of keeping our rivers healthy, but what are the other options and are they practical and cost-effective?
 
To investigate these options, Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS) is hosting a technical workshop on ‘Low-risk Climate Change Adaptation Options’, focusing on river management, at the Lake Hume Resort near Albury, NSW between Monday 7 and Wednesday 9 May.
 
 Twenty five scientific experts are attending the workshop, including representatives from three Catchment Management Authorities in NSW and Victoria where the options are to be tested, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, and State and federal government agencies.
 
“Other than environmental flows and engineering approaches to help conserve freshwater ecosystems, there are other complementary proposed actions that may improve how these ecosystems adapt to climate change,” said conference organiser Ms Anna Lukasiewicz.
 
“We want to investigate the other things we can do, specifically how practical they are and how applicable they are to the three catchments we have selected.”
 
The techniques to be considered at the workshop include:
  • Thermal control of river temperature
  • Fish passages and dam removal
  • Riparian revegetation
  • Conservation of targeted areas which are important for biodiversity.
“Providing shade along rivers by planting more trees along riverbanks helps lower water temperatures and could be a simple way of tackling climate change impacts,” Ms Lukasiewicz said.
 
“We want to look at where that is practical to do, how many kilometres you need, and which species in the river will benefit.
 
“Cold water pollution, when water is released from major storages from low off-takes in the dam, is a significant factor for river quality. It can be addressed by fitting in off-takes at many levels in the dam.
 
“And one way we can help our native fish breeds is to install fish passages and remove small weirs and diversions on tributaries to help connect suitable habitats. These techniques all have benefits, costs and risks.”
 
Ms Lukasiewicz is an ILWS post-doctoral researcher working on a research project funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.
 
“I am looking at ways of avoiding mal-adaptation to climate change,” Ms Lukasiewicz explained. “Mal-adaptation is where you take action that might have negative consequences. For example, people adapt to warmer temperatures by using their air-conditioners more, but that causes more greenhouse gas emissions.”
 
The three Catchment Management Authorities involved in the project are the Goulburn-Broken system in Victoria and the Lachlan and Murray rivers in NSW. The technical workshop will be followed by stakeholder interviews, smaller workshops in each catchment and a report with recommendations on these techniques.
Media contact:

Wes Ward, 02 6051 9906

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