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New Murray-Darling Basin study to investigate climate change impacts

Water scientist Rob Vertessy will lead a new $20 million research project into the Murray-Darling Basin.

The four-year study, which will be funded by the Federal Government and administered by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, will help inform water and environmental management decisions in the catchment.

This includes looking at how climate change and hydrology impact the environment and the livelihoods of people in Basin communities

Water Minister David Littleproud said Vertessy, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering, would bring a wealth of knowledge to the role.

Vertessy previously ran a Cooperative Research Centre on catchment hydrology and was head of the CSIRO’s Land and Water Division. He also led a review into the mass fish deaths in the lower Darling River earlier this year.

The reviewers were tasked with identifying likely causes of the fish deaths and providing recommendations to prevent similar events in future.

They found there were three main immediate causes: low water flows, poor water quality, and a sudden change in temperature.

However, the panel said the fish deaths were “shaped by a broader climatic, hydrologic and Basin management context that placed the lower Darling River at risk of such fish deaths”. 

Among their recommendations was increased investment in research to inform the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“After the fish deaths the Commonwealth committed $20 million to fund this new science over four years, and this delivers on that commitment,” Littleproud said.

“Better information will only lead to better outcomes in the Basin.”

Littleproud announced the funding in South Australia during a tour of the southern basin, where he also took aim at his state counterparts for failing to build new water infrastructure.

“State governments have abrogated their responsibilities on so many occasions,” he said.

“They use [the Commonwealth] as their ATM when they hit a problem but they don’t deserve to have the responsibilities they have.”

He said building dams would help drought proof the country, but that the majority of states aren't taking action and people don’t understand the benefits they provide.

“The Murray could have run dry if we hadn't built all these dams,” Littleproud said.

“If we were to go and dig some holes and store some more water, we might not only drought proof ourselves, we might also get some better environmental outcomes."