, Volume 43, Issue 8, pp 1082–1092 | Cite as

Water Planning and Hydro-Climatic Change in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

  • R. Quentin GraftonEmail author
  • Jamie Pittock
  • John Williams
  • Qiang Jiang
  • Hugh Possingham
  • John Quiggin


More than a third of humanity lives in regions with less than 1 million liters of fresh water per person per year. Population growth will increase water demand while climate change in arid and semi-arid areas may reduce water availability. The Murray-Darling Basin in Australia is a region where water reform and planning have been used to reduce consumptive extraction to better sustain river ecosystems under climate variability. Using actual data and previously published models that account for climate variability and climate change, the trade-off between water extractions and water essential to the long-term ecological function of river systems is analysed. The findings indicate that better water planning and a more complete understanding of the effects of irrigation on regional climate evapotranspiration could: (1) increase the overall benefits of consumptive and non-consumptive water use; (2) improve riparian environments under climate variability; and (3) be achieved with only small effects on the profits and gross value of food and fiber production.


Water planning Climate variability Irrigated agriculture River ecosystems 


  1. Adamson, D., T. Mallawaarachchi, and J. Quiggin. 2009. Declining inflows and more frequent droughts in the Murray-Darling Basin: Climate change, impacts and adaptation. Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 53: 345–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akter, S., R.Q. Grafton, and W.S. Merritt. 2014. Integrated hydro-ecological and economic modelling of environmental flows: Macquarie Marshes, Australia. Agricultural Water Management. doi: 10.1016/j.agwat.2013.12.005.Google Scholar
  3. Asokan, S.M., J. Jarskjö, and G. Destouni. 2010. Vapor flux by evapotranspiration: Effects of changes in climate, land use and water use. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: D24102. doi: 10.1029/2010JD014417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Bureau of Rural Sciences (ABARE-BRS). 2009. Socio-economic context for the Murray-Darling Basin. Descriptive report, MDBA Technical Report Series: Basin Plan, BP02. Canberra: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.Google Scholar
  5. Beesley, L.S., K.M. Howard, L. Joachim, and A.J. King. 2010. Cultural conservation of freshwater turtles in Barmah-Millewa forest. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series No. 203. Melbourne: Department of Sustainability and the Environment, Government of Victoria.Google Scholar
  6. Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO). 2013. About Commonwealth environmental water. Retrieved 14 August 2013, from
  7. Connell, D., and R.Q. Grafton. 2011. Water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. Water Resources Research 47: W00G03. doi: 10.1029/2010WR009820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. CSIRO. 2008. Water availability in the Murray-Darling Basin. A report to the Australian Government from the CSIRO Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Yields Project. Canberra: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  9. CSIRO. 2009. Advice on defining climate scenarios for use in the Murray-Darling Basin Authority basin plan modelling. MDBA Technical Report Series: Basin Plan BP01. Canberra: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.Google Scholar
  10. Davies, P.E., J.H. Harris, T.J. Hillman, and K.F. Walker. 2010. The sustainable rivers audit: Assessing river ecosystem health in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 61(7): 764–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Destouni, G., S.M. Asokan, and J. Jarskjö. 2010. Inland hydro-climatic interaction: Effects of human water use on regional climate. Geophysical Research Letters 37: L18402. doi: 10.1029/2010GL044153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Destouni, G., F. Jaramillo, and C. Prieto. 2013. Hydroclimatic shifts driven by human water use for food and energy production. Nature Climate Change 3: 213–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gibbs, M.S., J.S. Higham, C. Bloss, M. Bald, S. Maxwell, T. Steggles, M. Montazeri, R. Quin, and N. Souter. 2012. Science review of MDBA modelling of relaxing constraints for basin plan scenarios. South Australia: South Australian Government.Google Scholar
  14. Glenn, E.P., C. Lee, R. Felger, and S. Zengel. 1996. Effects of water management on the wetlands of the Colorado River delta, Mexico. Conservation Biology 10: 1175–1186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grafton, R.Q., and Q. Jiang. 2011. Economic effects of water recovery on irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 55(4): 487–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grafton, R.Q., and J. Horne. 2014. Water markets in the Murray-Darling Basin. Agricultural Water Management.Google Scholar
  17. Grafton, R.Q., L. Chu, M. Stewardson, and T. Kompas. 2011a. Optimal dynamic water allocation: Irrigation extractions and environmental flows in the Murray River, Australia. Water Resources Research 47: W00G08. doi: 10.1029/2010WR009786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grafton, R.Q., C. Landry, G. Libecap, S. McGlennon, and B. O’Brien. 2011b. Integrated assessment of water markets: Australia, Chile, China, South Africa and the US. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 5(2): 219–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grafton, R.Q., J. Pittock, R. Davis, J. Williams, G. Fu, M. Warburton, B. Udall, R. McKenzie, X. Yu, N. Che, D. Connell, Q. Jiang, T. Kompas, A. Lynch, R. Norris, H. Possingham, and J. Quiggin. 2012. Global insights into water resources, climate change and governance. Nature Climate Change 3(4): 315–321. doi: 10.1038/nclimate1746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Humphreys, E., M. Edraki, and M. Bethune. 2003. Deep drainage & crop water use for irrigated annual crops & pastures in Australia—A review of determinations in fields & lysimeters. Technical CSIRO Land and Water, Report 14/03, April 2003. Canberra: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  21. Jarskjö, J., S.M. Asokan, C. Prieto, A. Bring, and G. Destouni. 2012. Hydrological responses to climate change conditioned by historic alterations of land-use and water-use. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 16: 1335–1347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jones, G., T. Hillman, R. Kingsford, T. McMahon, K. Walker, A. Arthington, J. Whittington, and S. Cartwright. 2002. Independent report of the expert reference panel on environmental flows and water quality requirements for the river Murray system. Canberra: Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology. Retrieved 12 June 2012, from
  23. Khan, S. 2008. Managing climate risks in Australia: Options for water policy and irrigation management. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 48: 265–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kingsford, R.T., K. Brandis, R.F. Thomas, P. Crighton, E. Knowles, and E. Gale. 2004. Classifying landform at broad spatial scales: The distribution and conservation of wetlands in New South Wales, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 55(1): 17–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kirby, M., et al. 2006. The shared water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin. Canberra: Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Publication No. 21/06. Retrieved 13 February 2014, from
  26. Kirby, M., R. Bark, J. Connor, M.E. Qureshi, and S. Keyworth. in press. Sustainable irrigation: How did irrigated agriculture in Australia’s 1 Murray-Darling Basin adapt in the Millennium Drought? Agricultural Water Management.Google Scholar
  27. Leblanc, M.J., P. Tregoning, G. Ramillien, S.O. Tweed, and A. Fakes. 2009. Basin-scale, integrated observations of the early 21st century multiyear drought in southeast Australia. Water Resources Research 45(4): W04408. doi: 10.1029/2008wr007333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mac Nally, R., S.C. Cunningham, P.J. Baker, G.J. Horner, and J.R. Thomson. 2011. Dynamics of Murray-Darling floodplain forests under multiple stressors—The past, present and future of an Australian icon. Water Resources Research 47: W00G05.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mare, H. 2007. Review of surface hydrology in the Orange River catchment. Centurion: ORASECOM/GiZ by WRP Consulting Engineers, Jeffares & Green, Sechaba Consulting, WCE Pty. Ltd. & Water Surveys Botswana Pty. Ltd. ORASECOM.Google Scholar
  30. McMahon, T.A., R.M. Vogel, M.C. Peel, and G.G.S. Pegram. 2007. Global streamflows—Part 1: Characteristics of annual streamflows. Journal of Hydrology 347: 243–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Meyer, W.S. 2005. The irrigation industry in the Murray and Murrumbidgee basins, CRC for irrigation futures. Technical Report No. 03/05, June 2005. Retrieved 13 February 2014, from
  32. Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). 2010a. Guide to the proposed Basin Plan overview. Canberra: MDBA.Google Scholar
  33. Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). 2010b. Guide to the proposed Basin Plan: Technical Background Part I. Canberra: MDBA.Google Scholar
  34. Natural Resources Commission (NRC). 2009. Riverina Bioregion Regional Forest Assessment: River red gum and other woodland forests. Sydney: NSW Natural Resources Commission. Retrieved 12 February 2014, from
  35. National Water Commission (NWC). 2009. Australian Water Reform 2009: Second biennial assessment of progress in implementation of the National Water Initiative. Canberra: NWC.Google Scholar
  36. Norris, R.H., P. Liston, N. Davie, J. Coysh, F. Dyer, S. Linke, I.P. Prosser, and W.J. Young. 2001. Snapshot of the Murray-Darling Basin River condition. Report to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Canberra: Co-operative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, and CSIRO Land and Water.Google Scholar
  37. Overton, I.C., and N. Saintilan (eds.). 2010. Ecosystem response modeling in the Murray-Darling Basin. Melbourne: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  38. Overton, I.C., M.J. Colloff, T.M. Doody, B. Henderson, and S.M. Cuddy (eds.). 2009. Ecological outcomes of flow regimes in the Murray-Darling Basin. Canberra: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  39. Pittock, J. 2013. Lessons from adaptation to sustain freshwater environments in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4: 429–438. doi: 10.1002/wcc.230.Google Scholar
  40. Pittock, J., C.M. Finlayson, A. Gardner, and C. McKay. 2010. Changing character: The Ramsar convention on wetlands and climate change in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Environmental and Planning Law Journal 27(6): 401–425.Google Scholar
  41. Proctor, W., K. Hosking, T. Carpenter, M. Howden, M. Stafford Smith, and T. Booth. 2009. Future research needs for climate change adaptation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Report to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Canberra: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  42. SSCRRAT. 2013. The management of the Murray-Darling Basin. Canberra: Senate Standing Committee on Rural & Regional Affairs & Transport.Google Scholar
  43. Sun, F., M.L. Roderick, W.H. Lim, and G.D. Farquhar. 2011. Hydroclimatic projections for the Murray-Darling Basin based on an ensemble derived from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR4 climate models. Water Resources Research 47: 2011. doi: 10.1029/2010WR009829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Vernon-Kidd, D.C., and A.S. Kiem. 2009. Nature and causes of protracted droughts in southeast Australia: Comparison between the federation, WWII, and big dry droughts. Geophysical Research Letters 36: L22707. doi: 10.1029/2009GL041067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vorosmarty, C.J., P.B. McIntyre, M.O. Gessner, D. Dudgeon, A. Prusevich, P. Green, S. Glidden, E. Bunn, C.A. Sullivan, C.R. Liermann, and P.M. Davies. 2010. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature 467: 555–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Williams, J. 1983. Soil hydrology. In Soils: An Australian viewpoint. Melbourne: CSIRO/London: Academic Press, p 518.Google Scholar
  47. Williams, J. 2011. Understanding the Basin and its dynamics. In Basin futures: Water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin, ed. D. Connell, and R.Q. Grafton, 1–37. Canberra: ANU E Press.Google Scholar
  48. World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP). 2012. The United Nations world water development report 4: Managing water under uncertainty and risk. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  49. Young, W.J., and F.H.S. Chiew. 2011. Climate change in the Murray-Darling Basin: Implications for water use and environmental consequences. In Water resources planning and management, ed. R.Q. Grafton, and K. Hussey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Quentin Grafton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jamie Pittock
    • 2
  • John Williams
    • 1
  • Qiang Jiang
    • 1
  • Hugh Possingham
    • 3
  • John Quiggin
    • 4
  1. 1.Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National UniversityActonAustralia
  2. 2.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityActonAustralia
  3. 3.University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.School of EconomicsUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations