Volume 8 Number 10
October 8 - November 11 2012
A University of Melbourne team is leading a project dealing with the potential consequences of climate change for water resources. Now half-way through, the project, that will continue into 2014, is already shedding some light onto water reliability and water variability.
The Krishna River Basin covers a wide range of climates from semi-arid to wet, humid and tropical. Initial assessments indicate that there will be an increased variation in the availability of water from year to year.
“This will impose a number of challenges to manage water because the most difficult aspect of managing water is the variability. We know there will be a warming of the climate over the next century. All these factors combined reveal challenges including diminished assurance in terms of food security,” says Professor Hector Malano, from the Melbourne School of Engineering.
“The population of India continues to grow and this coincides with ongoing growth in big cities. There is competition for water between agriculture and growing urban centres. Food production will also need to increase but the agricultural sector will need to learn to produce more with less water,” he says.
According to Professor Malano and his collaborators Dr Biju George, Brian Davidson and Bandara Nawarathna, when there is a battle for water resources, the problem belongs to everyone. There are many components to the Krishna River Basin project including engineering, hydrology, economics and social considerations.
The farming sector in India is experiencing enormous change. Farms are becoming bigger, more mechanised and employing fewer people. The implications for internal migration are yet to be realised. Will current infrastructure in cities be able to cope with such a dramatic influx of people?
Professor Malano raises these questions of population, migration and food security in relation to some of the problems that have been identified by the project. “Our concern is for the ability to supply water reliably for all sectors and for all uses in the inevitable scenario of climate change.”
Water capture is another area of concern for the project team. Various governments have at some point provided funds for the construction of water capture infrastructure on farms. This could be seen as a temporary solution; while it offered employment and a water supply, such policies also resulted in the interruption of normal water flow. The intentional restriction of water flow resulted in a scarcity of water in downstream areas. Populations were then forced to import their water supplies. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of a policy that considered economics in isolation?
What emerges is that whatever policy and strategy is used, it must mitigate the problems of increased variability and increased competition. The greater the competition for water, the less assured we are of our food security. Professor Malano believes there is a need to test all possible responses, not just through economics but through hydrology. To limit the vision to just economics, is to look into a future full of uncertainty.
“When it comes time to present our findings, we will factor this uncertainty into our thoughts and recommendations. Meeting water demand in the future will require important conservation measures. Working with competing sectors is always a challenge. This research is designed to provide support to decision-makers in the relevant governments and other national agencies engaged in the management of the Krishna River basin,” he says.
“But research into such major projects also informs our research into local issues in the Murray-Darling.”
When Professor Malano and Dr George visit India again later this year, they will draw parallels between the two mighty Basins.
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, (ACIAR) website