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Screening Climatic and Non-Climatic Risks to Australian Catchments

Authors

  • B.L. PRESTON,

    Corresponding author
    1. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Private Bag 1, 107–121 Station Street, Aspendale, Vic 3195, Australia.
      * Corresponding author. Email: benjamin.preston@csiro.au
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  • R.N. JONES

    1. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Private Bag 1, 107–121 Station Street, Aspendale, Vic 3195, Australia.
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* Corresponding author. Email: benjamin.preston@csiro.au

Abstract

Emerging and future climatic change across the Australian continent has been identified as a significant threat to the successful sustainable management of the nation's water resources. However, the impacts of climate change must be viewed within the context of past, present and future climatic variability and human agency. A qualitative screening-level risk assessment was undertaken for Australia's 325 surface water management areas by aggregating a suite of six relevant risk indicators. Four indicators addressed the antecedent conditions upon which future climate change will act. These included 50-year trends in rainfall, the status of surface and groundwater development, and catchment condition. Two indicators addressed future drivers of supply and demand; specifically, projected changes in runoff and population. The results indicate that the management challenges currently experienced in Australia's population centres and key agricultural areas such as the Murray-Darling Basin are likely to increase in future decades. Furthermore, the geographic distribution of net risk, inclusive of multiple biophysical and socioeconomic drivers, is more extensive than is suggested by consideration of surface water development and availability alone. Comparison of at-risk catchments with the spatial distribution of various social and environmental assets identified a high degree of overlap among catchment risk and human populations, water storages, irrigated agricultural land, and wetlands of international significance. This suggests that the catchments of the greatest value are also those judged to be at greatest risk. Though considerable work remains in evaluating the security of Australia's water resources to climatic and other stressors, this study provides a first-order scheme for prioritising the risks to which catchments are exposed and an assessment of how some key drivers are likely to interact to drive risk.

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