Connecting landscapes to water resources
Maintaining healthy water resources is vital to a thriving agricultural economy, which is why Victoria is a key player in Australia’s sustainable water research efforts. DPI’s particular interest is in tools that can inform industry and policy stakeholders about how changes to agricultural systems and farm management practices affect catchments and water resources.
One of DPI Victoria’s projects is testing the modelling tools developed by the eWater CRC (in which DPI is a partner). “We are testing these models in real world applications to ensure the efficient management of water resources,” explained DPI Senior Research Scientist, Dr Kirsten Barlow.
“A lot of the rainfall and runoff modelling of catchments ignores the landscape complexity – the towns, the pastures, the crops and forestry, and the different slopes, soils and geology within a catchment – which can all affect stream flow.”
To this end, DPI’s researchers are feeding back to eWater the importance of connecting water resources with the complexity of the landscape, land use and farming systems.
A group of CRC partners, led by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and including Monash University, University of Melbourne and DPI among others, is now applying these models in the Goulburn and Ovens River catchments, representing both regulated and unregulated river systems.
An important role of the project is to promote discussion about the tools and the modelling of the catchment effects of agriculture with Catchment Management Authorities, agricultural industries and other interested groups.
While the modelling is one step removed from farmers at this stage, Dr Barlow says it has the potential to inform choices of crop and pasture plants, as well as land use changes to avoid negative flow-on effects, such as reduced catchment stream flow.
“This project has addressed a fundamental gap in our understanding of how climatic variability, water use within catchments and land-use changes each impact on stream flow. We have demonstrated 23% improvement in our ability to predict monthly stream flow by considering the different mixtures of land and water usages within the catchments studied”.
The choice of agricultural land-use in different parts of a catchment changes both the amount of water entering streams from runoff and the amount of water being used along the stream as irrigation and town water use. “That’s what I see is the biggest challenge: understanding the risks and benefits of different choices and managing them. The water resource is limited and we need to make the best possible use of it,” Dr Barlow said.
Research contact: Dr Kirsten Barlow, DPI Rutherglen, firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is co-funded by the Department of Primary Industries Victoria and The eWater Cooperative Research Centre. The eWater Cooperative Research Centre is a national collaboration developing tools to help predict water quantity and quality, and the impacts on water resources from climate and land use change.