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Climate change in the Murray/Murrumbidgee

Key points

  • The Murray Murrumbidgee is one of NSW’s most important agricultural regions, supporting a range of farming types and related industries such as manufacturing. The region contains diverse landscapes and ecosystems, including alpine areas in the Snowy Mountains to the meandering rivers and wetlands of the low-lying floodplains.
  • Climate change is affecting the Murray Murrumbidgee. Projections show temperatures are expected to rise, rainfall patterns will change, and there will be increased risk of severe weather events such as bushfire, floods and drought.
  • The NSW Government is helping the Murray Murrumbidgee adapt to climate change through the Enabling Regional Adaptation work. This is being achieved by working with state and local government stakeholders to identify key aspects of the Murray Murrumbidgee region that are vulnerable to climate impacts, along with challenges and opportunities to adapt.

Importance of the Murray Murrumbidgee region

The Murray Murrumbidgee region covers a large area including the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers, the NSW side of the Murray River and the Snowy Mountains. The region includes the large urban centres of Albury, Wagga Wagga and Griffith.

The landscape varies throughout the region, with most of the area covered by wide floodplains and relatively flat river valleys. It also contains high-elevation alpine areas in the Snowy Mountains. These higher areas provide water for the region, with rainfall and snowmelt run-off contributing to the Murrumbidgee River, which flows into the Murray River. These different landscapes support a range of ecosystems, from alpine areas to the rivers and floodplains which support wetlands, grasslands and forests. 

The region contains over 7,701 cultural heritage sites and 13 officially protected Aboriginal Places. Many of these sites are considered to be highly significant and include sites used for burials, ceremony and dreaming, and places that have social and contemporary usage for Aboriginal people today.

The floodplains and rivers have made the Murray Murrumbidgee one of Australia’s most important agricultural areas. The region is also one of Australia’s most significant locations for freight and logistics, with various transport hubs and corridors servicing the east coast. With access to the Port of Melbourne, the region’s producers have strong connections to export markets.

These environmental, economic and cultural values are just some aspects of the region which have been identified as being highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is already affecting the Murray Murrumbidgee region, particularly through increased temperatures. The impacts of this can be seen through recent prolonged drought and the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020.

How the Murray Murrumbidgee is affected by climate change

Murray/Murrumbidgee climate change projections and regional impacts infographic

Based on long-term (1910–2011) observations, temperatures in the Murray Murrumbidgee Region have been increasing since about 1950, with higher temperatures experienced in recent decades. 

The region is projected to continue to warm during the near future (2020–2039) and far future (2060–2079), compared to recent years (1990–2009). The warming is projected to be on average about 0.6°C in the near future, increasing to about 1.9°C in the far future. The number of high temperature days is projected to increase, with fewer potential frost nights expected. 

The warming trend projected for the region is large compared to natural variability in temperature and is similar to the rate of warming projected for other regions of NSW. 

The region currently experiences considerable rainfall variability across the region and from year-to-year and this variability is also reflected in the projections. However, all of the models agree that spring rainfall will decrease in the future.

Spring and summer are projected to experience the greatest increases in maximum temperatures, increasing by 2.4°C in the far future. Increased maximum temperatures are known to impact human health through heat stress and increasing the numbers of heatwave events.

Rainfall is projected to decrease in spring and to increase in autumn. Severe and average Forest Fire Danger Index is projected to increase. Severe fire weather for the region is projected to decrease in autumn in the near future.

Detailed information on the projected climate changes for the Murray Murrumbidgee region can be found in the Murray Murrumbidgee Climate change snapshot or explored further through the interactive climate projections map.

Adapting to changes in the Murray Murrumbidgee

To help the Murray Murrumbidgee adapt to the impacts of climate change, 300 state and local government stakeholders were brought together in 2016 as part of the NSW Government’s Enabling Regional Adaptation work.

These participants collaboratively identified how different economic, sociocultural and environmental aspects (also known as systems) in the region are vulnerable to climate change. For each of these systems, the vision for a climate-resilient future was identified, and opportunities for action were co-designed. These opportunities can be implemented by state and local government, businesses or community groups.

The Western Enabling Regional Adaptation – Riverina Murray region report provides a resource for state and local government and regional communities to understand how climate change will continue to impact the region and our values. It also provides potential opportunities for governments, businesses and communities to adapt to climate change. 

The following opportunities for action reflect potential options for state and local government, businesses or community groups to implement. This list has been summarised from the Western Enabling Regional Adaptation – Riverina Murray region report. These opportunities provide a starting point for action, and will be reviewed and updated to ensure they continue to reflect climate trends, key vulnerabilities and community values.

Small communities

Vision

Rural settlements of under 7000 people are strong and resilient communities that have adapted to the impact climate change has had on their livelihoods. Small communities have strong social cohesion, unique local businesses and opportunities for economic growth with improved connections to knowledge and services through reliable digital technology.

Opportunities for action

  • Create policies to support and meet the needs of sustainable communities. 
  • Invest in education and training to increase business innovation and improve employment opportunities.
  • Build new industries and innovative businesses based on local competitive advantages.
  • Create targeted employment programs to support skills development and expanded business opportunities for youth and Aboriginal communities.

Land management

Vision

Regional communities actively co-manage public and private spaces to create healthy, productive, biodiverse landscapes. The agricultural sector is resilient to climate change and the economy is strong with new business models for private land management including carbon and biodiversity.

Opportunities for action

  • Develop policies and new business models that balance environmental values and agricultural production.
  • Promote collaboration among regional stakeholders to plan, share information, and monitor regional landscapes.
  • Research synergies between indigenous cultural practices and scientific approaches to land management.
  • Encourage uptake of innovative management such as scenario modelling and flexible approaches to fire hazard reduction.

Riverine ecosystems

Vision

The systems that affect the water, soil and vegetation of the region’s ecosystems are effectively managed to protect environmental, social, cultural and economic values. Riverine ecosystems are healthy and managed using cultural, experiential and scientific knowledge to support their protection and sustainable use for the region’s tourism, agriculture, small towns and energy.

Opportunities for action

  • Promote regional advocacy and partnerships to strengthen ecosystem management. 
  • Embed indigenous knowledge into natural resource management to complement consumptive water uses.
  • Develop and implement management approaches that embed good practice and innovation in water regulation and efficiency.
  • Improve ecosystem health through activities such as landscape restoration, species reintroduction and biocontrol of feral species.

River-based tourism

Vision

The region’s river-based tourism sector is prosperous and highly valued. Stakeholders collaborate to create quality, nature-based tourism experiences. Riverbased tourism is supported by river management to ensure water supply, river health and water quality. The sector is supported by infrastructure to support International visitation.

Opportunities for action

  • Adopt new approaches to value the unique river ecosystems.
  • Establish regional promotion partnerships with operators, regional tourism organisations, local government and travel agents.
  • Analyse data to identify tourism demographics, new market segments and market education about ecotourism.
  • Diversify tourism markets and infrastructure to increase resilience and reliability of tourism services.

Mixed farming

Vision

Local farming businesses and communities are adaptable and manage business and climate risks, through using innovative technologies, and exploiting other market opportunities to create new income streams.

Opportunities for action

  • Encourage and support innovative technology, data-driven decision-making and new business models. 
  • Support training and professional development opportunities for farming communities.
  • Identify and promote complementary and alternative uses of land such as solar farms, carbon farming and farm tourism.
  • Explore, design and promote low-input adaptive systems to improve farm sustainability.

Irrigated agriculture

Vision

Irrigated annual and woody perennials (trees and vines) are grown using sustainable water-use practices. Large and small-scale farms are transparent with their water management, and technology is widely adopted for water reuse. The region’s irrigated agriculture is recognised for its best-practice sustainability and efficiency in water-use.

Opportunities for action

  • Encourage and facilitate greater regional participation in water planning and management.
  • Encourage knowledge and skills development for farming businesses and communities to manage water reforms effectively.
  • Analyse the full economic value of water in the regional economy including all beneficiaries and alternative water users.

Energy

Vision

The region is energy self-sufficient with resilient and diversified energy systems. Smart technology is used for the public transport system and road freight is reduced with complementary methods.

Opportunities for action

  • Support community energy self-sufficiency through decentralised energy generation from a diverse mix of sources, and shared energy storage capacity. 
  • Incorporate future land-use, energy and transport requirements in regional planning.
  • Provide government leadership and incentives to support resilient low-carbon networks and systems.
  • Promote and encourage the adoption of locally competitive, alternative energy sources such as biofuels, methane and geo-thermal.

How we’ve been adapting so far

With the knowledge and partnerships gained through the Western Enabling Regional Adaptation work, there is an opportunity for council, government and communities to show leadership and consider tthis work in their plans to respond to climate change.

Some opportunities for action are already being addressed by government, community, households and business, to help the Murray Murrumbidgee adapt to the impacts of climate change and build a sustainable, productive and equitable future.

One example of action being taken is a trial site at Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre, Burrumbuttock to prepare a seed production area and restore native woodland to withstand near-future climate change impacts.

Other examples include the projects supported by the Building Resilience to Climate Change grants and Increasing Resilience to Climate Change grants.

The Enabling Regional Adaptation work has already been used to inform government planning in the Murray Murrumbidgee through the Riverina Murray Regional Plan 2036. Incorporating this work into regional and state plans ensures climate change risks specific to the Murray Murrumbidgee are included. 

If you have an example of how a community group, business of local government is adapting to climate change, email AdaptNSW so we can share your story.