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Published: 25 February 2013

In south-western Australia, water shortages will only worsen

Don McFarlane

While the rest of Australia has had a reprieve from the millennium drought, and floods have recently affected many areas along the north eastern Australian coast, the extended dry period that has affected south-western Australia since about 1975 continues unabated.

Irrigation farming along the South Western Highway south of Perth in 2011: rainfall has been dropping in south-west WA, but runoff into dams used for irrigation is dropping even faster.
Credit: Liese Coulter/scienceimage

The loss of traditional water sources has required the building of seawater desalination plants capable of providing half the drinking water needs of people living in the Perth region.

Traditional water supplies are projected to dry even more by 2030 according to research just published by CSIRO scientists.

Global climate models (GCMs) give variable projections but they usually provide some hope for a wetter future in most regions. However, all 15 GCMs that provide daily information project an even drier 2030 for south-western Australia. On a percentage basis, the runoff into the reservoirs that supply water to Perth and into irrigation dams is projected to reduce by about three times more than the reduction in rainfall.

Even more disturbing, because catchments have dried so much since 1975, a given rainfall amount now generates less runoff. Catchment water yields will only recover if there are decades of rainfall large enough to raise groundwater levels within the deeply weathered profiles. According to the GCMs, this is very unlikely to happen.

Groundwater seeping from a channel bank at Bakers Hill east of Perth: interactions between aquifers, rivers and waterways are projected to change.
Credit: W van Aken/scienceimage

The story for groundwater levels on the coastal Perth Basin, the water source of choice for most people living in the region, is more complex.

The Basin contains aquifers that store large amounts of water to more than a kilometre in depth. Surface sandy aquifers support wetlands and are directly recharged by rainfall.

The research tested how these aquifers would respond under the climate projections for 2030. It also looked at what would happen if the dry climate since 1975 (even drier since 1997) were to continue.

Groundwater levels under areas of native vegetation and plantations would decline under any of these scenarios. As rainfall declines, the proportion used by vegetation increases and groundwater recharge correspondingly falls.

Large parts of the Gnangara Mound, a major water resource for Perth, are overlain by banksia woodlands and plantations and would experience a lowering of groundwater levels and further loss of dependent wetlands.

Under the surface of Western Australia, water levels are dropping.
Credit: CSIRO

More than half of the Perth Basin has been cleared for use by non-irrigated agriculture. In these areas groundwater levels are expected to remain stable, or in some cases to continue to rise as rainfall declines because the annual crops and pastures use less water than perennials.

Ironically, it is where native vegetation has been cleared with a consequent loss of biodiversity values that there may be enough water in future for permanent streamflows and wetlands.

Analysing the response of rivers and catchments to the climate since 1975 has identified interesting and sometimes unclear relationships. Two basins constituting only 15% of the area contributed 43% of the streamflow and these basins seemed to respond less to rainfall reductions. The reason for this behaviour is unclear.

Interactions between rivers and their surrounding aquifers are projected to change. Fresh groundwater currently enters these rivers as they cross the Perth Basin, often reducing their salinity. However in future, with groundwater levels much lower, it is expected that the rivers will discharge their more saline water into the fresh coastal aquifers.

The study estimated the growth in water demand and compared these with projected water yields to identify areas of shortage and surplus by 2030. The Perth region is relatively water-rich and has been able to supply both itself, and inland agricultural areas and the eastern goldfields, until recently.

The water shortage in the Perth region is anticipated to become worse by 2030.

Dr Don McFarlane coordinates CSIRO’s water science in Western Australia. He also liaises with the Western Australian government and manages the South-west Western Australia Sustainable Yields project, which is funded by the Australian Government and carried out in collaboration with the Department of Water, Western Australia. This article is republished with permission from The Conversation.

Published: 17 December 2012

Make your next holiday a sustainable one

Rosemary Black

It’s holiday time and many of us are heading off overseas, or thinking about where to spend our next vacation. Our choice of destination, accommodation and activities can make a difference to local economies, cultures and environments. Dr Rosemary Black offers some advice on how we can make our holidays more sustainable.

A local villager foraging for shellfish on Atauro Island. The island, 35 km south of Dili and separated from the Timor-Leste mainland, has a population of 8000 living among five villages. Eco-tourism is a major source of income, supplementing subsistence fishing and farming. Adventure Ecotourism students from Charles Sturt University <a href="">visited the Tua Koin ecotourism village</a> to study first hand how local people are <a href="">managing the enterprise sustainably</a>.
A local villager foraging for shellfish on Atauro Island. The island, 35 km south of Dili and separated from the Timor-Leste mainland, has a population of 8000 living among five villages. Eco-tourism is a major source of income, supplementing subsistence fishing and farming. Adventure Ecotourism students from Charles Sturt University visited the Tua Koin ecotourism village to study first hand how local people are managing the enterprise sustainably.
Credit: spiderman_frank/panoramio under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 licence

For developing countries like Fiji, Thailand and Indonesia, tourism is a major source of foreign income and a potentially significant driver for economic growth. So, while we often hear about cases where tourism may have detrimental impacts on the local environment and communities, it can also provide positive benefits.

Sustainable tourism is tourism that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable – that means its aim is to minimise impact on the environment and communities, and at the same time contribute positively to local communities.

What can you do to ensure that your tourism experiences are sustainable?

The first thing is to realise you are a vital part of the global tourism industry, and you can help transform the way the world travels by being a responsible traveller.

As a tourist or potential tourist, ask yourself ‘am I contributing to the local community or environment?’ Travel can and should be much more than simply visiting places, taking pictures and buying souvenirs; it can inspire cultural awareness, tolerance, and commitment to environmental responsibility.

Try to minimise your impact on communities and the environment. One of the most important things you can do as a responsible traveller is to make informed choices before and during your trip. With a little planning, you can improve the quality of your trip, while making a real difference to the people and places you visit.

When choosing destinations, accommodation and tour operators, consider which ones work to protect the environment and benefit local cultures and communities.

Do your homework, ask questions, seek out quality products by looking for accredited operators, guides and accommodation, and look for opportunities to give something back to the local community or environment – many tourism operators are supporting community projects and offering travellers the opportunity to get involved.

By exploring alternative travel choices, you can have a unique trip and avoid leaving negative marks on cultures, economies, and the environment, while making a positive impact on the people and places you visit.

Fijian villagers prepare to perform a ceremonial dance for tourists: seeking out genuine cultural experiences is rewarding for both travellers and the local communities.
Fijian villagers prepare to perform a ceremonial dance for tourists: seeking out genuine cultural experiences is rewarding for both travellers and the local communities.
Credit: peachygreen/flickr under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

Here are some useful dos and don’ts for your next trip away from The International Ecotourism Society. These are useful for holidays in Australia and overseas.

1. The hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Talk with staff about working conditions. Does the hotel support community projects?

2. Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.

3. Dress: Read up on local conventions and dress appropriately. In many countries, modest dress is important.

4. Behaviour: Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes, or private land.

5. Photos: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/video of people. Always ask first.

6. Environment: Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass animals. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.

7. Animal products: Never buy crafts or products made from protected or endangered animals.

8. Pay the fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services.

9. Buy local: Choose locally owned lodges, hotels, and B&Bs. Use local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local festivals/events.

10. Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live locally. Are they recommended by tour operators?

A book I recently co-edited explores the issues of how sustainable tourism can provide positive benefits to local people and the environment in developing countries. Sustainable Tourism and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: Effecting Positive Change brings together research and examples from around the world of sustainable tourism initiatives.

The UN Millennium Development Goals focus on trying to address global issues like poverty alleviation, primary health care and education for all, environmental sustainability and gender equity. We used this as a framework for the book and explored how sustainable tourism can help support and meet the goals.

We didn’t only have academics writing chapters but sought out local people who actually run sustainable tourism operations in places like Nepal, Costa Rica, Fiji and Indonesia.

I think this book has an important message for tourists from developed countries such as Australia who travel overseas to enjoy the different culture and environment of a developing country – that they can play an important role as responsible tourists and that tourism can help support the health and well-being of local people, assist biodiversity conservation efforts, and preserve local cultural heritage, while also supporting education, equal opportunities for women and basic human rights.

Dr Rosemary Black is a senior lecturer and social researcher in the School of Environmental Sciences at Charles Sturt University specialising in sustainable tourism, heritage interpretation, outdoor recreation and tour guiding. Rosemary previously worked as a park ranger in NSW and adventure travel guide in Nepal, India, China, Tibet and Australia. This is a lightly edited version of an article first published in Open Forum, an independent, non-profit think-tank built around a community blog moderated by Global Access Partners (GAP).

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