Delivering a healthy working Basin for Australia: Northern Grampians, Victoria
Program: Strengthening Basin Communities
Funding recipient: Northern Grampians Shire Council
Water for the Future funding $267,000
Project commencement: April 2010
Project completion: June 2011
The Northern Grampians Shire Council is looking at potential future climate scenarios to prepare for an uncertain climate future.
"This is an essential project to ensure council can deliver core services into the future," Jim Nolan, Northern Grampians Shire Council (NGSC), Director Infrastructure and Environment said.
"To do that, we needed a good understanding of our water assets, to assess climate change risk and develop options for long-term planning and mitigation."
The project, funded by the Australian Government's Strengthening Basin Communities program, identified water as playing an essential role in recreational activities, attracting new residents and supporting all business sectors including tourism and agriculture in the area.
"Water is critical to delivering council services and making our towns more liveable," Jim said.
"Ensuring our parks, gardens and reserves are in good condition means they can be used by the community for recreation and improve quality of life."
Installation of irrigation, Cato Park, Stawell
"It's important for us to attract people to visit and live here, which then has a flow on effect to our local businesses and tourism. We also need our rural towns to be vibrant and sustainable to service our broader agricultural community – if we can't provide those services, it reduces the sustainability of our region's agriculture."
"Small rural municipalities in Victoria are financially strapped and have little capacity to increase their funding through rates, so we depend on grants," Jim said. "This project is immensely important for us in helping council be better prepared for the future and work with our local communities."
The project began towards the end of a long period of drought, which has provided useful learning opportunities."
"In the past six years, council took several emergency measures to secure water, including water harvesting and storage," Jim said.
"Through this project we looked at the emergency measures undertaken in drought and realised that more work was needed to make these assets sustainable in the long-term."
"We've now looked back and identified where the gaps were. We know a lot of work is needed around our storage facilities. There's a need to look at our management in greater detail, around issues like the stability of dams and capacity, managing water quality, managing blue green algae, water use and triggers for water allocation to our various public purposes."
"Like many councils, we don't have the necessary expertise in house, so we contracted an engineering firm to bring its skills to the project."
Stage one of the project brought together a dozen stakeholder groups including water suppliers, users and regulators, Australian, state and local government groups, catchment management authorities, water authorities and the community. With the input of those groups, plus research, field visits and consultation with council staff, the firm produced the project's first report on water resources and assets.
Goldfields Dam, St Arnaud
The second stage involved carrying out a climate change risk assessment to identify future risks under four scenarios.
"The scenarios ranged from a wetter phase similar to that experienced before 1998 through to a 'big dry' like the one we've just had," Jim said.
According to the project's second report, under all four scenarios, NGSC could be challenged by financial constraints and struggle to find the resources to fulfil its water responsibilities and maintain existing infrastructure.
"Our community is susceptible to the impacts of climate change," Jim said. "We've had a decade of drought and we've been affected by extreme weather events like the bushfires in 2006, floods in September 2010 and January 2011, and other storm events."
Stage three of the project is now underway, with the consultant engineers working with council to identify ways of reducing risks to council water assets under a range of future conditions.
NGSC is keen to pursue further funding opportunities to assist in the implementation of this much needed work.
Governments at all levels are working with Basin communities to achieve a healthy river system that supports strong and viable communities. Central to this is the strengthened involvement of local communities in the design and roll out of government programs.
The Australian Government is also committed to 'bridging the gap' between current water diversions and any final sustainable diversion limits in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, through water savings generated by infrastructure investments and voluntary water purchases.