5 What can we expect?

Although the process to reverse many historical impacts on the state’s water resources and associated ecosystems is challenging, significant progress is being made. The foundational elements are already in place or are being implemented. This gives cause to believe that projected population and economic growth can be significantly decoupled from future pressures facing the state’s water resources. The elements include:

  • current legislative and planning frameworks that promote sustainable water resource management (within an integrated NRM framework) and build on existing environmental protection efforts
  • scientific research, monitoring, assessment and reporting on the condition of water resources and water-dependent ecosystems
  • significant investment in water diversification projects, including stormwater and recycled wastewater schemes in metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia to deal with long-term variability in supply and demand, as well as responding to climate effects.

Recent work to improve the way in which the results from monitoring and assessment programs are communicated to the wider public, industry and government is also expected to assist in prioritising works, protecting waterways and helping us to understand the time it will take to improve the condition of our more degraded waterways.

5.1 Issues and priorities

A key uncertainty in this positive outlook is the complex hydrological consequences of climate change, with its anticipated impact on water resources and water-dependent ecosystems. Impacts may include reduced stream flows and groundwater recharge as a result of forecast reductions in overall rainfall, and increased occurrences and severity of droughts and floods, which can affect water users and water-dependent ecosystems.

It is therefore vital to continue to monitor and evaluate the status of the state’s water resources and ecosystems. Also essential is scientific research to advance our knowledge of climate change, and the opportunities for mitigation and adaptation measures that are necessary to respond to climate change and other significant risks described in this chapter. Key management priorities over the coming three to five years include:

  • continued investment in building knowledge of our water resources and risks, to underpin policy development and to focus management
  • implementation of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and associated programs, such as the Commonwealth Water Recovery Strategy, in South Australia and across the Basin
  • ongoing development of water allocation plans for prescribed water resources across the state
  • ongoing investment to diversify the state’s water supplies
  • addressing issues regarding the interface between mining development and water
  • development of water quality improvement plans for key areas of the state—in particular, the ACWQIP and the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Watershed Quality Improvement Plan
  • development of the blueprint for urban water as an integrated urban water management plan for Greater Adelaide (the first for a capital city in Australia)
  • ensuring water security for remote communities and developing approaches to ensure appropriate access to water for these communities.
  • development and use of strategic forecasting and monitoring capabilities for water resources
  • use of markets and technology (such as real-time data apps) to improve the availability of information and access to data for government, industry and communities.

Major priorities and emerging issues to help improve the ecological condition of the state’s inland waters relate to improving farm management practices so that nutrients and sediments are retained in the landscape, rather than being washed into streams and wetlands. This may involve a range of social, economic and environmental approaches to support a wider uptake of fencing, stock exclusion, revegetation and other programs to manage farmland more effectively than in the past.

Further work also needs to be done to understand and design appropriate buffers to effectively trap nutrients and sediments throughout the range of environments in the state, particularly during prolonged drought and high-rainfall periods.

Urban streams will always be difficult to improve, but recent research is helping us to understand the role of large stormwater inflows in the degradation of local stream environments. Future work on this and other stream restoration programs will help to define strategies to minimise human disturbances to urban and peri-urban rivers and creeks. Although some large-scale interventions may be required to improve stream conditions, it is also hoped that increased implementation of water-sensitive urban design practices will reduce stormwater flooding.

An anticipated mining boom in South Australia, and related activities, are expected to increase the demand for water resources in those areas. This will require increased consideration and priority to be given to assessing the potential impacts on both the quantity and quality of water resources, and providing an appropriate management and regulatory regime so that such developments occur in an appropriate manner.

The South Australian Government’s 2013 Economic Statement describes the potential of unconventional gas to transform energy supply, provide energy security and create a new source of export income (Government of South Australia 2013). It is anticipated that there will be increased exploration of, and production from, a range of unconventional gas prospects in South Australia during the next reporting period (DMITRE 2012). These projects include a range of shale gas, tight gas and coal-seam gas deposits across a number of basins in South Australia. A number of state government agencies are working together in a co-regulatory approach to minimise the potential impacts of these activities on water resources. In addition, the recent National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development will ensure that future regulation of coal-seam gas is informed by substantially improved science, as well as independent expert advice.

The government’s focus on Premium Food and Wine from Our Clean Environment (Government of South Australia 2012c), together with a growing population, will be key drivers for the suite of measures aimed at managing South Australia’s waters so that they can sustainably provide the ecosystem services needed to underpin the state’s social, environmental and economic wellbeing in the face of increasing and serious pressures.

Onkaparinga River near Old Noarlunga

Barbara Hardy Institute

Map showing areas of oil and gas infrastructure, and mining and coal gasification projects in South Australia

Source: DMITRE (2012)

Figure 8 Location of oil and gas infrastructure, mining projects and coal gasification projects in South Australia

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