The basics: Victoria’s water sector and climate change – exploring answers to common FAQs
Entities with a role in water management make up the Victorian water sector. This includes:
- Water corporations
- Catchment management authorities
- Local government authorities
- Traditional Owner groups
- Victoria’s Desalination Plant operators
- Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH)
Victoria has 18 water corporations. These water corporations provide vital water services to Victorian communities and businesses. Water services include treating and supplying drinking and recycled water, delivering water for agriculture, and treating sewage and trade waste.
Victoria also has 10 catchment management authorities. Catchment management authorities are responsible for planning and coordination of land, water and biodiversity management across the state.
Victorian local government authorities provide stormwater management and drainage services, some sewerage and flood mitigation services, monitor blue green algae in some waterways and facilitate emergency management planning at the municipal level in partnership with state and local agencies.
Victorian Traditional Owners have cultural, spiritual and economic connections to land, water and resources through their associations and relationship with Country. They have managed land and water sustainably over thousands of generations. Collaborating with Traditional Owners in water planning and management, and improving access to water for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians is an important aspect of maintaining access to Country. Victoria has Settlement Agreements with a number of Traditional Owner Groups under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act (2010).
The Victorian Desalination Plant provides a rainfall independent water supply. It can deliver up to 150 billion litres of drinking water each year to Melbourne, Geelong and local regional communities. The Victorian Government has contracted AquaSure to operate and maintain the desalination plant.
The Victorian Environmental Water Holder is an independent statutory body responsible for holding and managing Victoria's environmental water entitlements. They preserve and improve the environmental values and health of water ecosystems across Victoria.
Climate change mitigation is action taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing our emissions is an important contribution to tackling climate change, as it will minimise the likelihood of damaging climate change impacts occurring in the future. Climate change mitigation is also referred to as emission reduction.
Climate change adaptation refers to actions which change natural or human systems to prepare for actual or expected changes in the climate. Adaptation aims to reduce the harm caused by climate change. It also aims to find opportunities, cope with the consequences of a changing climate and build resilience.
Some actions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also reducing the impacts of climate change. These actions are both mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
An example of an action which helps reduce greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change is the installation of a more efficient shower head in your home. Average annual rainfall has already reduced across Victoria due to climate change. Decreased rainfall means less inflow into our storages, and less water in our rivers and streams. If we reduce the amount of water used while showering, we can help to ensure drinking quality water is available for other important uses. It also delays the need for costly changes to our water infrastructure (adaptation). Getting clean water to your shower requires pumping it to your home and then heating the water. For most of us, this all involves energy that generates greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the amount of water you use during your shower, you can significantly lower your daily use of energy. This simple action also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases generated (mitigation). The above infographic can be seen in larger detail by downloading here (PNG, 889.7 KB).
View an infographic (PNG, 380.3 KB) about the impact of climate change in Victoria by the 2050s under high emissions, compared to 1986–2005.
Almost 900,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions were emitted by the Victoria’s water sector in the 2020–21 financial year. That’s equivalent to almost a quarter of the Victorian government’s total emissions. And it's estimated to be more than Victoria’s hospitals, Victoria’s schools and universities, or even Victoria’s train network. It’s similar to the amount of emissions produced by over 250,000 cars on our roads in a year.
Victoria’s 18 water corporations are responsible for almost all the sector’s emissions. These emissions are categorised into two groups:
- Direct emissions: These emissions are released into the atmosphere as a direct result of the processes or activities owned or controlled by the water corporation. Most of the water sector’s direct emissions result from the on-site treatment of wastewater (e.g. sewage). When friendly bacteria break down organic material to help clean our wastewater, they release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Indirect emissions: These are the emissions released into the atmosphere as a result of the indirect consumption of energy by the water corporation. Most of the water sector’s indirect emissions result from the use of electricity generated from the burning of fossil fuels.
Water corporations are responsible for the vast majority of the water sector’s emissions. As such, it is vitally important
that for water corporations to show leadership on climate change and reduce their emissions.
Water corporations, alongside all other Victorian government entities, have also committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025.
By acting now and investing smartly, the water sector can tackle climate change and achieve these ambitious targets. Some of the ways the water sector is reducing its emissions are as follows:
- developing and using energy-efficient equipment
- capturing biogas to generate electricity
,investing in on-site renewable energy generation
- purchasing renewable energy
- generating carbon offsets through, for example, tree planting initiatives
- and much more
There has always been a lot of variability in Victoria’s rainfall and streamflow, but within this variability there has been a long-term trend toward warmer and drier conditions. Research conducted by the Victorian Water and Climate Initiative (VicWaCI), and detailed in Victoria's Water in a Changing Climate (PDF, 10.5 MB) (accessible version (DOCX, 2.8 MB)) shows that the drying trend of recent decades is projected to continue into the future.
There is much less water entering the state’s water storages from streams and rivers. This is due to both changing weather patterns and hydrological changes in some catchments. VicWaCI research shows there has been a shift in when and how our catchments receive rainfall, in addition to an overall reduction in the runoff response of some catchments during the Millennium Drought. This research helps us better understand what to expect from future droughts and climate change, so that we can be better prepared to respond.
The 2020 Long-Term Water Resource Assessment for Southern Victoria (LTWRA) found that water availability has already declined. The assessment found the main cause of the decline was the drier conditions, with this trend likely to continue because of climate change.
Variability has always been a feature of Victoria’s climate, and as such the Victorian water sector is well versed in managing changing conditions and continues to improve how it manages climate extremes. However, we know that Victoria’s catchments have become drier and temperatures have increased, and that the future will feature increasing demand for water and long-term decreases in supply from water catchments. Because of this, we must effectively plan for climate change.
The Water Cycle Adaptation Action Plan (2022-26) further identified that climate change sits alongside other pressures on water resources, such as population growth and changing economic conditions. If we don’t adapt effectively to climate change, we could experience:
- less water available for the environment, community and businesses
- increased prices for water services
- damage to the infrastructure needed for essential water and wastewater services
- restrictions on the water for recreation and private gardens
- drainage being overwhelmed, increasing flood damage and sewer spills
- peaks in water demand during heatwaves that could exceed the capacity of available water.
The water sector has a responsibility to respond to climate change through mitigation and adaptation initiatives. There are many different approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Since 2017, the Victorian Water and Climate Initiative (VicWaCI) has conducted research to understand how climate change and climate variability impacts Victoria’s water resources. VicWaCI research informs many water resource planning and policy activities across Victoria. This research is undertaken in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, and the University of Melbourne.
In 2018, the Victorian Government released its Pilot Water Sector Adaptation Action Plan (Pilot WSAAP). The Pilot WSAAP had 20 priority actions and supported Victoria’s long-term climate change strategy. Many projects and actions were delivered to build knowledge of how climate change is impacting the water sector, enable successful adaptation, and enhance the ability of water sector staff to apply climate change adaptation to all business decisions. More details on the outputs from this pilot can be found in the Delivering water services in a changing climate section.
In 2022, the Victorian Government released the Water Cycle Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan (2022-26) (the Water Cycle AAP). The Water Cycle AAP, required under the Climate Change Act 2017, builds on the strong foundations of the Pilot WSAAP. It identifies 21 actions that will help to ensure the integration of climate change adaptation across all aspects of the Water Cycle System and the climate resilience of our water sector now and into the future. The Water Cycle AAP is one of seven plans prepared by the Victorian Government for different systems.
One of the ways that DELWP is supporting the water sector to apply VicWACI research findings is through the development of the Guidelines for Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Water Availability in Victoria (PDF, 8.3 MB) (accessible version (DOCX, 8.7 MB)). The guidelines set out climate change scenarios for:
- potential evapotranspiration
- runoff and
- groundwater recharge
The scenarios are used across Victoria for assessing the impact of climate change on water availability, supply and demand. The guidelines also include information on changes to climate variability associated with climate change.
To reduce pressure on our water resources, the Victorian Government has revived the successful Target 155 water conservation program and has invested to modernise infrastructure across the state. Upgrades to infrastructure reduces the amount of water lost in old leaky pipes and channels as it travels to primary producers.
Integrated water management is an important way that we can provide greater value to our communities. This is achieved by looking at the entire water cycle and identifying climate adaptation opportunities.
Victoria has Integrated Water Management Forums where members can identify, prioritise and oversee the delivery of collaborative water opportunities that can have multiple adaptation benefits. This includes urban cooling and greening, local flood protection and/or reducing pressure on water supplies for drinking.
There are plenty of things you can do to save water in your home. When you save water, not only is this good for the environment but you can also save on water and energy bills and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.
An example of an action which helps reduce greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change is the installation of a more efficient shower head in your home. If we reduce the amount of water used while showering, we can help to ensure drinking quality water is available for other important uses. It also delays the need for costly changes to our water infrastructure (adaptation). Getting clean water to your shower requires pumping it to your home and then heating the water. For many of us, this heating water uses energy that generates greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the amount of water you use during your shower, you can significantly lower your daily use of energy.
Some of the other ways you can save water in your home include, but is not limited to:
- using appliances, such as toilets and washing machines, with at least 4-star WELS rating
- having shorter showers
- committing to Take 2: Victoria’s Climate Change Pledge
- installing a rainwater tank
- protecting and planting native trees
For more information on these or other emissions reduction and adaptation initiatives please contact DELWP’s water sector Climate Change, Risk and Resilience team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on climate science and research relating to water please contact DELWP’s Hydrology and Climate Science team on HSC.Team@delwp.vic.gov.au.
Page last updated: 26/09/22