Managing climate change risks to water
Water runs through every part of our lives, our communities, our economy and our environment. While we rely on water on a daily basis, Queensland’s water resources are vulnerable to climate change.
Droughts, floods, cyclones, bushfires and other extreme weather events have long been part of the story of Queensland. There is overwhelming scientific evidence and acceptance from the water sector that our future water resources will be shaped by:
- hotter weather resulting in higher evaporation, drying our landscapes and reducing river flows and dam levels
- more frequent and longer dry periods across more of the state, making water resources scarcer
- more frequent and intense fires that can damage plants, increase erosion, and reduce water availability and quality in rivers and dams
- heavier, more intense rain that will increase the likelihood of flooding, erosion and overtopping of dams
- higher average and peak sea levels, exposing fresh surface water and groundwater sources in low-lying areas to saltwater intrusion.
There is much we are already doing to adapt to these climate change challenges – and it all starts with using the best available science to understand the impacts of climate change on water.
Climate change impacts rainfall, runoff, evaporation and groundwater recharge.
Climate modelling is an evolving science that allows us to identify these water impacts across regions or in specific catchments. We use global climate projections and scale them down to help us predict how global temperature increases will affect our regional climates. We combine this information with our existing understanding of catchments, and data gathered from monitoring stations across the state, to test these predictions and understand the potential implications of longer-term changes on water and its use. This lets us plan for future scenarios and safeguard our water supplies into the future.
We recognise that climate change is a matter of statewide, national and international significance. That’s why we collaborate widely across the water sector, with peoples and communities, and with all levels of government to:
- develop a detailed, shared understanding of current and future water availability informed by our monitoring and modelling programs
- define and manage current and future water resource risks
- explore, implement and communicate the broad range of innovations and actions we’re taking to respond to climate change and adapt to future climate realities.
Building resilience through sustainable water planning
Our climate has changed and will continue to do so. Recognising that our changing climate presents risks for all Queenslanders, the Queensland Government uses the best available science and modelling to understand and manage current and future climate risks.
The Queensland Government is committed to a climate resilient future, including mitigation measures such as those set out in the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan (primarily emissions reduction and renewable energy targets), and adaptation actions. Our commitment to managing climate impacts on our water resources is reflected within our water laws.
Queensland is divided into 22 catchment-based water plan areas. The Great Artesian Basin covers a large proportion of Queensland and a 23rd water plan manages this water resource. These plans govern the way water is shared and managed, ensuring safe, reliable water is available now and over the long-term for all water users, including environmental purposes, cultural water and achieve other aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Within the water planning framework, we work with scientists and stakeholders to understand current and future water requirements and the risks that changes in climate pose to water availability.
Clear communication and information help water users to make informed contributions in the water planning process, including decisions around the risks that climate change poses to water entitlements. This is critical for ensuring the ongoing provision of safe, reliable drinking water while also meeting long-term demands of other water users, particularly in times of drought.
The water sector in Queensland is accustomed to floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, and adapt to these events by sharing knowledge and collaborating across the state. Building resilience within the water sector is an ongoing process and we will need to continue sharing information as we find our way through the challenges climate change presents.
We know that industry and communities are already adapting. For example, the agricultural sector is making big strides in planting crops that can tolerate hotter, drier conditions, and need less water.
The urban and industrial sectors are increasingly looking to make better use of water sources that are less impacted by climate change, such as desalination, recycled water, stormwater storage and reuse and managed aquifer recharge. Demand management strategies that promote more efficient use of water in the households and across small business minimise the loss of precious water in reticulated water systems. Smart metering and leak detection technologies also help to minimise water wastage.
Proponents of infrastructure are modelling performance under more extreme weather events to confirm that the needs of downstream water users, including the environment, can still be met.
The role of the department
The Queensland Government understands that we have a central role to play in supporting climate adaptation initiatives and in developing new solutions and guidance to support climate resilience across the State. The Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water is working to address the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change on water through:
- building our understanding of water availability impacts on water supply scheme performance, ecological and cultural values, access to water entitlements and water use behaviour
- providing information to water users and the community on likely climate impacts and working with communities, industry, researchers, stakeholder groups and others to continue conversations about adaptation and preparedness
- engaging people across Queensland and beyond to understand the water interests of our communities, our Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, our economies and our diverse environments
- collaborating with other government departments to help Queensland’s water users understand their water and its value
- continually updating water monitoring and measurement technologies including using remote-sensing techniques to track how water moves through and is available in a landscape
- interpreting and communicating the modelling that informs and underpins water planning decisions
- working across government and with researchers and industry experts to model how our water storage, treatment and distribution infrastructure perform under extreme weather event scenarios
- partnering with councils to understand their water supply security risks and the ability of water supply systems to meet future growth, with consideration given to potential climate change impacts
- collaborating with local stakeholders to complete assessments of water needs in some of the State’s most significant food bowl regions to identify opportunities to improve water security and support food security planning
- strategically and systematically reviewing and updating Queensland’s 23 water plans to ensure they keep pace with the latest climate science and continue to meet the water needs of all Queenslanders
While much progress has been made, climate science is continually evolving, and we are committed to continually building our understanding of climate impacts to develop better responses to risks for our water resources.
Through strong engagement with all water stakeholders, arming ourselves with the latest science and driving innovation and continual improvement, we are strengthening the water sector now and into the future, for the benefit of all Queenslanders.
Where can I find out more?
- See what climate impacts may be in your area on The Long Paddock Queensland Future Climate Dashboard
- See what climate impacts on your catchment may be in your Water Plan area
- View current water plan reviews and water plan risk assessments
- Utilise the Historical flood mapping tool
- Queensland climate action
- Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan
- Industry projects
- Rural Water Futures - Improved water technology
- Queensland Bulk Water Opportunities Statement (QBWOS)
- Regional water assessments
Urban water security
Queensland remote food security action plan 2023-2026 (draft) (PDF)
Last updated: 05 May 2023