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The research project helping future-proof Victoria’s water supply

With streamflows in Victoria forecast to potentially halve by 2065 and the population set to double by 2050, the state has put a focus on research to help secure its water supply.

The Victorian Water and Climate Initiative was established by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) in 2017 to support research into the impacts of climate change and climate variability on Victoria’s water resources. This includes three different projects in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and CSIRO.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne are looking at runoff rates across the state and why these are declining; BOM is working to improve understanding of different weather types and their impact on rainfall; and CSIRO staff are developing better ways of generating rainfall and streamflow projections.

DELWP Manager of Hydrology Geoff Steeden said the initiative is about better understanding the challenges the water sector will face in the future.

“Some of the big challenges for water resources in Victoria are related to climate and changes in climate, as well as changes in catchments and hydrology,” he said.

“Through the [initiative] we’re trying to better understand these challenges so the sector can be prepared and better understand our climate and water resource conditions today and into the future.”

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World Water Day, held on 22 March, highlighted the importance of this with its 2020 theme of ‘water and climate change’.

UN-Water Chair Gilbert F. Houngbo said it was vital people understand that the two are inextricably linked.

“Adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect health and save lives [and] using water more efficiently will reduce greenhouse gases,” he said.

“We cannot afford to wait. Everyone has a role to play.”

 Although the Victorian initiative only began three years ago, it is part of a decade-long series of research programs that aims to help the water sector prepare for a changing climate. 

But it’s not just research for research’s sake – DELWP Director of Water Resource Assessment and Planning Anna May said the department is eager to ensure real-world actions result from the studies.

“Part of our team is responsible for understanding water resources across Victoria, making sure we’re doing assessments to understand what availability we’ve got from a surface water and groundwater perspective, and looking further forward in terms of what is the future looking like,” she said.

“At DELWP, and as part of this program, we’re really keen to make sure that the new understanding we’re getting from the research is linked up with policy development and practitioners so we can make the best use of that understanding to inform our decisions for the future.

“Through the program and the past research, we've developed climate change guidelines, which look at water availability. In my past life when I worked at one of the urban water corporations, we used these guidelines to inform our 50-year urban water strategies.”