Editorial Feature

Climate Change and the Impact on Water Resources in Australia

Of all the inhabited continents, Australia is the driest and as a result changes in the climate have a very direct impact. Australia faces significant environmental and economic impacts due to climate change and its effects on water resources essential for human life, as well as economic prosperity.

Factors Affecting Water Resources

While theoretically water is a renewable resource, it is possible to extract too much water and as a result threaten the quality of our water supplies and the ability to maintain natural ecosystems that rely on water. Water also helps sustain the health of our rivers and lakes.

Increased greenhouse gas emissions has caused the global temperature to rise resulting in the melting of polar icecaps, an unprecedented rise in sea-level and and increase in extreme and unpredictable weather. It is known that the annual average daily mean temperature has increased by 0.9°C from 1910 to 2011 and according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a 1°C overall temperature rise should be expected by mid-2030. These changes are particularly significant to Australia where all the coastline and low-lying lagoons are vulnerable to the sea-level rises of 10-30cm. An increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme temperatures has been observed all over Australia and in Southern Australia rainfall has reduced causing a considerable reduction in stream flows.

Effects of Climate Change on Water Supply

As a result of climate change, the water supply in Australia is likely to become increasingly vulnerable. Due to projected drying trends over much of the continent, Australia is becoming water-stressed. Freshwater resources and the biodiversity therein are being severely affected. Australia has an extremely diverse freshwater fauna which will be dramatically affected by the temperature rise, consequently perturbing all downstream markets and industries. On top of this, corals are disturbed with bleaching events that are occurring more frequently than ever before.

Changing rainfall is also dramatically changing the water-scenario in the country. Long dry spells and increased evaporation to due to high temperatures is changing the landscape. As of 2018, the Australian state government has classified most of the central western regions as drought-affected and has been forced to put drought-relief measures in place. The drought is severe, widespread and very intense, affecting life, agriculture and industry.

Factors such as changes in water temperature and concentration of carbon dioxide could have an effect on the water quality. Eutrophication, an increase in chemical nutrients in an ecosystem, is a major problem in Australia and its occurrence may intensify with global warming.

Conclusion

Climate change impacts salinity, erosion, water quality and aquatic biodiversity, all key to any water resource. Growing water demand and changes in the climate represent a major challenge for the management of water resources. The impacts of climate change on water are of particular significance, given it is essential for our survival, the economy and our way of life. Climate change adaptation policies and facilities are helping to mitigate some of the debilitating effects of global warming on water resources. The decisions taken today will have lasting consequences for future life on Earth.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 23rd May, 2019.

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