Climate change has the potential to adversely affect the Australian Alps' water catchments. This report assesses the extent of that threat.
The high quality and reliable waters from the Australian Alps are of national economic, social and environmental importance. In 2005, 3980 gigalitres (GL) of Victorian Alps waters flowing annually to the Murray-Darling Basin were conservatively estimated to be worth $4 billion to Australia’s economy. On this basis then, the average annual 9600GL generated by the Australian Alps catchments could, in 2005 terms, be worth as much as $9.6 billion a year to the national economy.
These Alps waters represent around 29% of the annual average inflows of the Murray-Darling Basin. They are very reliable and help generate $15 billion worth of Australia’s agricultural produce annually including 45% of Australia’s irrigated production ($5.5 billion); 56% of its grape crop; 42% of fruit and nuts and 32% of its total dairy production. The water helps support many of the 2.1 million Australians living in the Basin, Adelaide and many towns of South Australia. The Alps catchments also deliver water to easterly (coastal) flowing streams and maintain a $300 million per annum environmentally sustainable hydroelectric power generation. The high quality waters also contribute to a vibrant $280 million per annum snow and mountain based tourism industry supported by snow making and potable water supplies.
The Alps waters bring many environmental benefits. They contribute to the well-being of natural ecosystems of the high mountain catchments; they provide environmental flows for downstream rivers and they help to dilute the effects of salt and silt laden waters sourced from the greater Murray-Darling Basin catchments. The integrity of this high quality Alps water however is vulnerable. It is highly reliant on the high mountain catchments of the Alps parks being in good, natural condition. Any reduction in condition, could seriously impact water quality, water yield and natural flow regimes.
The Australian Alps are extremely important for their outstanding biodiversity, their remarkablegeodiversity and landscape and scenic values. They are an iconic part of Australia and are National Heritage listed. The Alps help conserve one of the richest biodiversity areas on the mainland. Many birds and animals are found nowhere else in Australia or the world, and many are threatened or endangered, including the Mountain Pygmy Possum and the strikingly coloured Corroboree Frog. The Alps flora include the massed summer wildflower areas of the alpine herbfields; the ancient gnarled Snow-gums at the snowline; tall wet eucalypt and rainforest communities; and dry native pine woodlands in the rainshadow areas of the mountains. Glacial landscapes; limestone cave systems; deep gorges; plunging waterfalls; broad river valleys and the highest and very rugged winter snow covered mountains of the Australian mainland add to diversity, scenic appeal and importance of this area.
The effects of climate change are predicted to adversely impact these natural values of the Alps and this would threaten the delivery of high quality water yields. In 2010, an assessment of the natural condition of the Alps protected area catchments was completed. It was presented in a Technical Report titled -“Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments”- (Worboys et al, 2011). The report assessed the natural condition of 235 sub-catchments; identified significant current and predicted climate change threats and identified management adaptation investments (Priority Actions) needed to respond to the most serious threats. This Summary Report presents aspects of the full Technical Report, and its contents are briefly presented here.