Response to Drought in South Australia: Workshop

A Case Study in Adaptive Management

A workshop with representatives from Government and research organisations with an interest in the water management lessons learned from the ‘Millennium Drought’. This workshop was held as part of the Living Laboratories program, an initiative supported by ICE WaRM and the Department for Water.

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Date: Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Location: Stamford Plaza – The Crystal Room, 150 North Terrace, Adelaide



Karlene Maywald

National Water Commission

Until recently Karlene Maywald was the Chair of the National Water Commission. Karlene was the representative for the seat of Chaffey in the South Australian House of Assembly from October 1997 until ... Read more

Andrew Johnson PSM


Andrew has nearly 40 years’ experience in natural resource, water and environmental management working in environmental impact assessment, soil conservation and land management, landcare, dryland sa... Read more

Justin Brookes

The University of Adelaide

A/Prof Justin Brookes, Director Water Research Centre, Adelaide University. Justin has broad research interests in limnology and water treatment with a primary focus on coupling between hydrodynamics,... Read more

Richard Hopkins


Richard is the Chief Executive of the International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management (ICE WaRM). ICE WaRM is an Australian Government initiative, a collaborative centre with five fou... Read more



Purpose of the Workshop:

  1. Identify common learnings from across organisations and keys to successful collaboration in responding to the drought;
  2. Determine effective means for Government to engage with the community during periods of high, collective community stress;
  3. Identify outstanding high priorities for new research and/or policy to help respond to drought or equivalent natural resource stresses in the future;
  4. Seek to publish the proceedings of the workshop in the peer reviewed literature so that it may be of value to other public administrators in Australia and overseas.
Urgent action must be taken to prepare for southern Australia’s next drought – despite the recent rainfall, according to a report released by the International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management (ICE WaRM).

The report, from an ICE WaRM-led workshop which studied management of the millennium drought, says priorities need to be set after examining the full cost of the recent drought and also taking into account the potential future impact of climate change.

Among other things, the report says necessary approvals with agreed triggers should be established in advance to ensure a plan can be put into action as soon as drought strikes.

The workshop was told that a number of consequences from the drought persist in South Australia – including water quality in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, acid drainage from the Lower River Murray Irrigation Area and cracked levee banks.

However, the workshop, organised with the support of the South Australian Department for Water, was told that overall the River Murray Drought Response Programme successfully achieved its goals – water for critical human needs was available at all times, water quality was maintained, acid sulfate soils were managed, the entire Lower Lakes did not acidify, the horticulture industry was assisted with purchased water enabling it to survive and riverbank collapse was managed as a state hazard.

In announcing the release of the report, South Australia’s Minister for Water and the River Murray, Paul Caica, said: “The state would have faced a catastrophe if action had not been taken. Acid sulfate soils in the Lower Murray would have impacted the environment of the Lower Lakes, Adelaide may have had to rely on bottled water and investment in irrigated horticulture would have perished.”

The workshop was attended by representatives of the community, businesses, research organisations and government agencies and heard details of the whole of government response which emerged during the drought.

ICE WaRM Chief Executive Richard Hopkins said South Australia’s handling of the drought has attracted interest from around the world.

“There is substantial interest in Australia’s recent experience in responding to the drought,” Mr Hopkins said. “We have built drought management as a major area of expertise and it’s a source of great interest for delegations we host from around the world.”

The drought workshop, which was part of ICE WaRM’s Living Laboratories programme, is the first step in a longer process to fully document South Australia’s response to the drought and develop new strategies to deal with future environmental emergencies.

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