Episode 8: Empowering climate adaptation at a local level

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 1

Kirsten Diprose:

Innovation Ag is made on the lands of the Gunditjmara and Wurundjeri peoples. We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging.

Professor Richard Eckard:

We are now just starting to see the Bureau of Meteorology officially, so the millennium drought never ended.

Prof. Lauren Rickards:

We're going to have a doubling of our population in the next 30 years. Where's the water going to come from? What's the best use of the land and the assets?

Damian Wells:

Those who adapt successfully to climate change will have unbelievable understanding of their local context.

Prof Rebecca Lester:

We really need to think about the community, the environment, the economy as being synergistic and working together.

Kirsten Diprose:

Hello and welcome to Innovation Ag, brought to you by the Victoria Drought and Innovation Hub. I'm Kirsten Diprose. Last episode, we looked at innovation systems in agriculture on a large scale at the national and regional level. And if you haven't listened to it, I recommend hearing that episode first because it really explains what innovation systems are. But basically, an innovation system is structured around the flow of information and technology to actually turn an idea into a product or a service or a process. So can we have innovation systems on a much smaller, local scale? In many ways, I suppose local systems are easier to create the national ones. Communities are often already connected and networked. But on the other hand, resources and capacity in local areas might not be adequate.

Instead of being all academic about this, we're going to look at local innovation systems specifically through the lens of climate adaptation. How are local water corporations, local government, scientists and community groups working together to offer effective solutions? We at the Vic Hub basically did our own test of this. We held a Think Tank event in Bendigo recently where we invited all sorts of people who are collaborating at a local level to address the challenges of climate adaptation. Let's start with what we mean by climate adaptation.

Professor Richard Eckard:

I've heard the term millennium drought talked about a few times. Let me give you a bit of a background. The climate scientists are so beaten up by the naysayers that they need 30 years worth of data before they actually use terminology like a step change in our weather. So we haven't had 30 years since the beginning of the millennium drought. We are now just starting to see the Bureau Meteorology officially say the millennium drought never ended.

Kirsten Diprose:

That's Richard Eckard, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Melbourne. His example really paints a picture of what climate adaptation is all about. It's a fairly new concept that governments are now talking about. And it's different to climate change mitigation, which is about efforts to lower greenhouse gases. Climate adaptation is about navigating the reality that climate change is upon us now and it's likely to get worse.

Here's Professor Eckard again speaking at the Vic Hub Think Tank, which focused on climate adaptation to drought at the local level. He says rainfall levels in parts of Australia haven't fully recovered following the millennium drought.

Professor Richard Eckard:

There were just a few La Niña events punctuated in the last 20 years. But actually what we've seen is a step change, same as we had in Western Australia in the 1970s. A step change, which is why Cape Town ran out of water. Same thing happening in Victoria. A southward movement of about 400 to 800 kilometres of our weather systems. We've mapped that as well. So if you've applied that to Victoria, you'd have to say, "Well, we are already seeing a southward movement of canola, for example." Hamilton used to be prime sheep country. It's now a lot of Canola going in there, more viable for cropping because it's dried out. What's happening is mixed farming system is moving back up into the traditional cropping because you can't keep going with too many crop failures in the northwest. You've got to actually mix up the farming system.

We've seen the Brown Brother's example of moving Pinot Noir grapes to Tasmania and buying up the Gun's plantations. That was a climate change action. They just worked out that by 2030 you can't produce quality Pinot in Victoria because of temperature.

We've seen dairy contract. Tasmania has not lost the idea that it's prime dairy country now. They're actively promoting the fact that they're better than Victoria's prime dairy and we've seen a contraction of dairy to the more reliable rainfall zone. So things are changing and we need to be ready for that. And we probably in our minds need to start thinking about step change versus drought, they're connected. Climate change is connected to drought because it does mean a drop in growing season rainfall, but an increased frequency of extreme events, which would be days like today coupled with drought.

There are some winners as well if you think about it, because if you've got a southward movement of weather systems, you're starting to get more summer rainfall in Northeast Victoria, starting to get more summer rainfall come around into the Orbost area. Though grasses like kikuyu are going gangbusters in those areas because they're getting the summer rain. So it's taking an intelligent view of the landscape and saying, "Where are the opportunities that we should change to?" versus, "Where are some of the changes we need to adapt to?"

Kirsten Diprose:

What makes climate adaptation so hard is the level of uncertainty about what's even going to eventuate. We know that Victoria has warmed 1.2 degrees already and the availability of freshwater is likely to become a critical issue if no adaptation action is taken. So let's bring in professor Rebecca Lester, freshwater ecologist at Deakin University and she's also the lead knowledge-broker at the Vic Hub.

Prof Rebecca Lester:

My research is fundamentally about what the impact of climate change will do to the things that we value within ecosystems and within communities. We also actively investigate what are the attributes of freshwater systems that could contribute to adaptation? And so this is a little piece of work that we were doing to investigate the possibility that freshwater plants and algae may actually be an alternative to a reasonably well-publicised red seaweed to feed to cattle to be able to reduce their methane emissions for example. And while it was pretty early days for that work, I can suggest that the impact is not quite as stark. The Asparagopsis seaweed is extremely effective, but there are some plants and algae that do have quite useful impacts, and so that's hopefully something we'll explore a bit further.

Kirsten Diprose:

Quantifying the costs and benefits of taking action or no action when it comes to ecosystems is another key focus of Professor Lester's work.

Prof Rebecca Lester:

So this is a piece of work that we did with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder where we're able to assess what differences the environmental watering that they're undertaking might make to the ecosystems that they're attempting to maintain or restore, and then to be able to extrapolate that in space and time to be able to compare to a watering scenario to a no watering scenario. And that provides the ability to quantify the benefits that are associated with that particular management action in that case.

We also developed tools that can facilitate decisions. So this was a piece of work that one of my master's students undertook. He's developed an interactive online tool that enables farmers in the Corangamite CMA region to be able to look up their own properties and to be able to see what happens if they are interested in fencing off their riparian zones. So we've included fencing costs and revegetation costs, but then we've also got things like the amount of carbon sequestration that we expect to generate with planting out that riparian zone and what the change in the production for that particular property might be. So these types of tools enable people to have more information to make the best decisions that are appropriate for their own circumstance and to understand how these types of things will actually affect them personally on their own property.

And then finally, quite a bit of the work that we do is looking at what future climate projections could be. What do we expect temperatures to look like? What do we expect rainfall and therefore stream flows to look like? And then how is that going to be able to support or not support the various different organisms or the community values or the economic values that we have within those systems? And how effective are some of the adaptations that we would choose to be able to address those impacts? So that provides us both with the ability to understand which adaptations may be most effective, but also to see whether there are synergies or trade-offs between areas that can sometimes be thought of as being in competition with each other, whereas I think we really need to start to think about the community, the environment, the economy as being synergistic and working together.

Kirsten Diprose:

In other words, in climate adaptation, you can't just take one aspect such as the science and then throw away all the other parts. Ultimately, it's about sustainable regional development.

Prof Rebecca Lester:

But there's also a saying about never wasting a good crisis. And so climate adaptation provides us with the opportunity to rethink how our regional communities operate. So traditionally, our communities have often had a single or maybe two focal industries. That's often agriculture, perhaps mining. And in many cases, we've seen trends of people tending to leave regions. Factors such as global commodity prices, water reform, climate variability have tended to increase the variability of those regional communities. So renewable energy, for example, is a really wonderful opportunity because it provides farmers with additional income streams. It provides the opportunity to be able to attract our energy intensive industries into regions and to diversify that economic base. And it also provides us with the opportunity to grow our manufacturing base, which we know during COVID we would have liked to have seen more onshore manufacturing and perhaps some slightly less disrupted supply chains.

So value add opportunities exist for commodity driven agriculture. And we'd like to be able to take advantage of the wonderful quality of Australian produce and to be able to find competitive advantages arriving from that quality. So by developing local innovation precincts, for example, in regions is one way that can be achieved by identifying a location for a concentrated and coordinated investment that would bring together all of the resources that was needed by such industries. So that could be renewable energy, high quality, high reliability water, logistics, transport links, access to innovation partners via connections with universities and other research providers. And so that is likely to drive local investment into a sector that fits in the existing identity of that region.

So in short, I think there's a huge opportunities that can come with the challenges of adaptation to climate change and to drought if we're able to approach that thoughtfully.

Kirsten Diprose:

Now, as Rebecca Lester mentioned there, this is really where the local innovation systems come into play. While state and national policies might frame the action, every community and every environment is different. A great example of adaptation comes from the Wimmera in Victoria's West. It's a wonderful story of innovation in water and irrigation. And while largely successful, there was one adaptation outcome they hadn't quite expected.

Caroline Welsh:

I married into the family farm in 2000, so my introduction to dryland farming was very much around the millennial drought for the first 10 years.

Kirsten Diprose:

Meet Caroline Welsh, a farmer at Berriwillock and speaking here at our event also as the Deputy Chair of Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water.

Caroline Welsh:

Most of the water that Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water deals with comes from the Grampian systems in the Grampians area. The expectations is certainly in our region that we'll get less rainfall, and if you've got a certain percentage of a decline in rainfall, you can expect that the percentage change to stream inflows is much higher. So reduced rainfall means even more reduced inflows unfortunately.

A long-term 200 gigalitres is kind of what we'd expect to receive. And since 1997, we're actually getting only about 85 gigalitres of inflow into our region. And from our farm, that's probably means that we had the millennial drought. Since the millennial drought, we've had a couple of wet years, but we haven't really ever got back to the stream flows or the rainfall that we experienced prior to that 1997 period.

Thankfully, water authorities we're pretty good at planning. We've been very good at getting some government funding and assistance. And what we've done is piped a lot of our systems as much as we possibly can. A lot of that eastern part of our region, we used to get a channel delivery once a year. Water would arrive from an open channel system all the way from the Grampians almost all the way up to the Murray River, which was obviously hugely inefficient. We piped the northern part of that area in the early years. And then we had a huge programme during the millennial drought, which was the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline, and that saved 103 gigalitres of water.

One of the good things about having a really inefficient system like an open channel system that runs for miles and miles is that you can save a lot of water. And it's also made pretty big changes to people who are receiving water on farm rather than just a big dam fill once a year. All of a sudden we get yearlong water availability, which really changes how we can manage our farms. We get a much higher quality of water. We used to source our water from a range of different options. Grampians water is really high quality and it's a very reliable supply now that it's from pipes.

Kirsten Diprose:

The Wimmera Mallee pipeline is hard to say quickly three times in a row and has gone down in history as one of Australia's largest water saving projects. And the pipes didn't just reshape the water supply, they reshaped the community on multiple levels.

Caroline Welsh:

One of the challenges is that we used to have on-farm dams. People on farms, the importance of having on-farm dams, it might just be for yabbying, it might be for playing with the kids. Biodiversity. It was a real change to our system and to our understanding, and I think it took people a lot of time to really understand what that meant.

One of the challenges also with converting to a pipeline is that we now had to... We thought, "Oh, we're getting water every day." But the mindset and the change of having a once-off channel supply system to a pipe system means that all of a sudden, one minute we're kind of in the middle of the millennial drought, we've sold all our stock off because we didn't want to cart water, we didn't have much water for stock, and now all of a sudden we've got a much better source of water. It's reliable, it's high quality. The number of stock in the Mallee and the Wimmera has gone up again. We've seen increased intensive farming in the region as well. So maybe what three days of water supply looked like in 2010 when we only had 200 sheep left, now we've got thousands. That understanding of how to manage that watering system on farm has taken a while for people to get to understand and to really recognise how to manage it.

As I said, the loss of on-farm dams was a really big issue for a lot of farms and also a big issue for biodiversity because you've got a pretty dry area and we used to have dams all over our farms. But one of the discussions that happened within the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline within the community was, "Well, what's that going to mean and what's that also going to mean for our recreation lakes?" If you have a look at a map of the Wimmera Mallee area, for such a dry area, there's a lot of lakes. And for our community, those lakes have become even more important now that we no longer have on-farm dams. And there's been some work that's been done about the community impact, the dollar value of having recreational lakes in our small and regional towns across Wimmera Mallee and they just make a huge difference.

One of the interesting things was with the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline, very focused on pipes. Our customers said, "We want our lakes. We want as many recreational lakes as we can." And so we put in place a recreational levy. So every farmer, every individual residential customer pays a little fee to ensure that we can keep our recreational lakes in our region. And that's something that the state government's actually starting to roll out across... That sort of emphasis on recreational lakes is something that's been transferred across the rest of the State.

Kirsten Diprose:

The word levy or fee is rarely popular. But there's another consideration when it comes to climate adaptation, who's going to pay for it? It's a discussion that the people of Bendigo in Central Victoria are currently having with their water authority, Coliban Water. And it wasn't that long ago that Bendigo became dangerously close to running out of water altogether. Here's the Managing Director of Coliban Water, Damien Wells.

Damian Wells:

Bendigo was within five weeks of running out of water in the millennium drought. You think about that, a big provincial city within five weeks of running out of drinking water for its community. It is unbelievable when you pause and think about how close Bendigo came to running out of water. We've got to do heaps more and recycled water. There will have to be a debate around potable recycled water, what the sector calls purified recycled water. We obviously have to get on top of our leakage. We've got a small rural system. We think we can save about 6 gigalitres of water by modernising that. That's probably about $130 million investment that's required.

Kirsten Diprose:

Damien Wells already sees the water authority as playing a bigger part in the overall system of public health.

Damian Wells:

It's about providing safe drinking water, recycled water, sewage and rural water services for public health. We are public health businesses. That's what we do. If you're like me, you've probably just got a letter from your energy or your gas provider saying that your bill's going up 27 or 37 or something percent. This year, we are proposing a 1.9% price increase for Coliban Water customers. We have to front up to some very significant issues to continue to service our community, and they are climate change, population growth and ageing assets. We have kicked the can down the road for far too long. We need to renew our assets. Thinking about heat health in Bendigo, for example, where in the hot weather, mortality rates go up 18% in Bendigo. So what's our role in heat health risk for community? And there is no question, we need to invest.

Now, little old Coliban Water, we already have $440 million of debt. Now, that might have your jaw hit the desk, but we're proposing to increase that debt further to make these investments. Who's paying for that debt? Coliban Water customers. We're 100% customer funded. So through Coliban Water bills, about $350 of every Coliban Water customer bill contributes to paying that debt. Now, you might think that sounds crazy, but there's actually some logic to it, which is that over the life of an asset which may last 50 years, 80 years, 100 years, everybody who benefits from that asset over time should reasonably pay a share in the cost of that asset. We're proposing to triple our capital programme over the next five years. It's a big ambitious programme, but it's absolutely necessary. In many ways, there is no choice. We must make these investments because our communities absolutely depend on us. We've got $2 billion worth of assets.

Now, "What are you doing about water security?" you ask the local water corporation. Well, heaps of stuff. And it's heaps of stuff that isn't always visible. I think some people may sit out there sometimes thinking, "Ah, these idiots, they can't think of anything. They're not thinking about this, not thinking about that.' Well, we've got some pretty sharp minds in the water sector who were thinking about a lot of things. I mentioned treated water storage. That's about drinking water closer to your customers, more resilient networks, integrated water management. That's partnering with local government, planners, everybody to think about how we can manage better the rainfall that we do get, how it works through the community.

Groundwater will be part of the picture. Those who adapt successfully to climate change will have unbelievable understanding of their local context. Every single town, we have a town vision for every single town. We know what the water sources could be to support that town. We understand the supply and demand curve. We're seeking to work with local government to influence settlement patterns where the water's just not going to be there. We're talking with local governments about what their future growth might be in our region.

Managed aquifer recharge. When it's wet, what water can you grab and actually re-inject into groundwater aquifers and pull that out at a later date when you need it? It's not new. It's done all around the world. It's done in Perth.

I mentioned regional growth. We've got digital metres. We'll nearly have about a 95% penetration across the whole Coliban Water customer base with digital metres within the next 18 months. That means that everybody at the household level, their water is being measured about once a minute or so in terms of use. Where those digital metres exist, we already have our contact centre staff ringing people to say, "Hey, you've got a spike in your water use. We can see it. Have a look around." And people are finding leaks. People are finding their kids went out the side of the house and turned on a tap and walked away. People are finding all kinds of things. And ultimately, we'll have a graphic user interface available on an app to put the power in people's hands on that. And obviously, this connectivity issue grid, how do we make sure that we can draw on water from a whole bunch of different sources when we need to?

We have to be in front of it. We don't want to be in that five week position again. We just experienced some of the biggest floods in living memory in this region, and that was heavy and that was tough. There was some fantastic resilience investments that happened after the 2011 floods, which paid dividends in the 2022 October flooding. I think there's some instructive lessons there about how you can get ahead of it. The thing I'll just leave you with is if you think about the big capital projects that are required to be successful in large scale adaptation for community benefit, our approvals processes don't match. You're going to run out of water before you've built the thing because you couldn't get it approved. I don't say that facetiously. I think we need to mainstream climate adaptation projects as having a smoother approval's pathway so that we can serve our communities because our communities will not thank us when we aren't ahead of it because we didn't get the project approved in time.

Kirsten Diprose:

So what is the role of government in creating innovation systems? Is it all just regulation and approvals? There's a conventional view in economics that governments have little capacity to spark innovation and should only step in the case of market failure. But the people we had on our Think Tank panels were arguing the public sector can actually play a critical role in innovation. Professor Lauren Rickards is the chair of the Climate Adaptation Lab at La Trobe University and a lead author on the recent IPCC report on climate change. She says local governments and universities play an enabler role in innovation. I'll drop you straight into the panel conversation.

Prof. Lauren Rickards:

Drawing on the work with the IPCC, we were writing the chapter for Australasia or Australia and New Zealand. Looking across the research, one of the really key things that comes out of that is the importance of helping our enablers to adapt. Local government, as we know, is a key enabler. So universities, so a whole lot of other community service organisations. And really focusing in on our own adaptation is a really crucial thing. Often, we're in the role of assisting others. We often get spoken about in all sorts of assisting roles, disaster recovery, disaster response. But how are we actually adapting how we work, what we consist of, our own assets? These are really crucial things to the point that one of the key risks we identified for Australia and New Zealand, we called institutional overwhelm. So I think we all have an intuitive understanding of what institutional overwhelm looks like. We may have participated and experienced it from the inside.

This is when you know very, very well what climate change entails. That drought is around the corner, et cetera. You know what you should be doing, but you're dealing with yesterday's issues and all the other issues and all the compounding effects, and so that kind of need to really focus in on what we are doing. Universities I have to say are really struggling to come to the table on this themselves. Out of Australia's 44 universities, four of them have climate change adaptation plans. Pleased to say La Trobe's one of them. So is Deakin, so is Melbourne Uni, so is RMIT. So that's good. But I can also say not a whole lot of action going on inside. And I think that's the case for a lot of institutions and organisations, even those of us who should know better. We are not the denialists here. So that's one thing to say.

The other thing to say is that for local government, sometimes we think about governments as in council by council, but one of the great things that local government has at its disposal, more so than I would say the university sector yet, is the fact that it is connected. So it has that networked existence. And really making the most of that is, I think, key to the resilience. And so that's about all of the sorts of regional based partnerships and connections that we're talking about, but also thinking about connecting along much greater spatial reaches as well, networking across.

In the capital cities, it's a huge amount of focus on city to city networks when it comes to climate change, mitigation and adaptation. We don't see that so much around local councils in rural and regional areas, but there's no reason why we couldn't have rural councils connecting from California where we know there's a lot of synergistic responses to here, et cetera. So there's a whole lot of stuff that governments could be doing and are doing and connecting with those of us in other enabling roles who are also struggling with the same issues.

Kirsten Diprose:

We've already discussed the situation in Bendigo a little. Well, let me introduce you to one of these local government enablers in the region. It's Deputy Mayor Jennifer Alden at the City of Greater Bendigo.

Cr Jennifer Alden:

When I came onto council seven years ago with a farming advisory committee, I decided to put my hand up to chair that. It was still a discussion about drought recovery, mental health, and issues in that area, but maybe of the era a reluctance to use the words climate change. We could get climate variability and that was about as far it would go. So I have felt very strongly that my role as a counsellor in that time has been to poke the beast and to try and put forward the need for climate resolution on the need for urgency for action on climate change and biodiversity breakdown, always capitaling those together. And also when it comes to land use, we've got a situation where we're going to have a doubling of our population in the next 30 years. Where's the water going to come from? What's the best use of the land and the assets? What are we doing to encourage the people who are moving post COVID tree changers who are coming here in droves looking for something different and how are we actually making those places resilient for people?

But we do have a Greening Greater Bendigo strategy and the role of councils not only working with our local area, but I think it was talked about with regards to collaborations. We're part of the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance, so that's 13 councils, and there are greenhouse alliances around most of the state. It's a great vehicle for action. Some of the projects that have been undertaken will then lead the way, I think, for what councils could do if they were resourced better for this green infrastructure.

When it comes to our financial situation, we have a perverse outcome in that we're now dealing with the impost of the recent floods. And ours is minor compared with up north, but where that sits in your budget then is a deterrence to the investment in the types of infrastructure that you'd need to be investing in. And that's a real difficulty that often comes back to we're going to need a lot more resources.

Kirsten Diprose:

Funding, resourcing, and capacity building are often cited as barriers to climate adaptation. Short-term funding can also be a problem, building a programme and making connections only for the funding to end after a year or two. And this is where the innovation systems come in, collaborating and pooling resources and skills, especially in rural areas, to plan for the future. But this planning has to be done carefully. Otherwise, you run the risk of maladaptation, which is where one adaptation measure taken with good intentions ends up backfiring or producing other negative effects.

A basic example of this is taking more water out of a river system for irrigated agriculture. But by doing so, you deplete the level of water for communities downstream. Maladaptation can also refer to negative social outcomes too. That's why making sure all the voices are in the room when planning for climate adaptation is so important. The Victorian government actually funded the development of six regional adaptation strategies, which were released in late 2022. Dona Cayetana helped put together the ADAPT Loddon Mallee strategy.

Dona Cayetana:

The purpose of these were to take place-based approaches to adaptation because understanding of place is really critical to define adaptive capacity and then take targeted action. The ADAPT Loddon Mallee programme, while the strategy is an output of the programme, I think the more key outcomes from the programme were that we were able to develop partnership approaches with local government, our partner agencies. And real grassroots communities and over 40 projects and programmes were delivered over those four years. I also want to say that they were bookended by Black Summer and the floods and that we've had COVID and storm events in the middle. So the fact that our communities have been able to respond in such a proactive way has been really incredible and a demonstration of how much willingness to act and actual strength there is in communities.

While I know that the word resilience gets bandied around a lot, and to be honest, some communities are sick of hearing it and have started using the word resistance as well, which I actually really like, especially for our traditional owner groups and young people, they're talking about climate resistance rather than resilience. It's been a really fantastic four years working with local governments, partner agencies and communities to really strengthen that capacity on the ground and take a framework that is around building knowledge, not just in communities but for government as well. It's just some of the key things that we learned through that process because it really was a learn by doing process.

The things that people are really concerned about, are things like impacts of drought on cultural heritage, green spaces, biodiversity, the local agricultural communities, water bodies, food and water security, the impact on people's health and wellbeing, also housing, which is a much bigger wicked problem that we've got in our country at the moment. The enormity of the wicked problem of climate change means that we really need to take partnership approaches to tackling climate change.

And when we're talking about local government, in our region at least, we work across 10 local governments. There's also equity fluctuations in local governments, so there are some local governments that are really poorly resourced that might not even have a sustainability officer on staff. How can we work with local governments to strengthen their capacity to respond in a changing climate?

Kirsten Diprose:

Dona says the key to enabling local action is building trust and relationships.

Dona Cayetana:

I might use as an example our work in with our local mobs. So the Loddon Mallee region's very fortunate to have the largest representation of Aboriginal people in Victoria. We've got 16 local mobs and a couple of formally recognised traditional owner groups such as Djaara and First People of Millewa-Mallee. But often as government, we're told to engage with traditional owners and it can be quite tokenistic and tick-boxy because government timelines don't actually match up with cultural timelines. Things take time. You need to build trust. So a really great outcome of the four years of this programme has just really happened in the last 12 months where we've been able to develop those trusting relationships enough with our local traditional owners. So that Djaara, for example, we were able to fund through our programme to develop their own climate action strategy. So that was to pay for a staff member to sit in the organisation and develop their own climate action strategy.

We also provided some funding to Tati Tati who were able to then partner with Murray-Darling Water Authority, Murray-Darling Basin Authority to do some mapping of water flows across the floodplains in their area, and also work with the first people of Millewa-Mallee who partnered with local organisation Food Next Door and Regenerative Community's feasibility study called Planting the Seed. And that was about looking at indigenous food crops as a way to kind of drought proof the Mallee's local food systems. I think they're good examples of things like long-term connection and relationship building.

Another real win was to think about... One thing we learned right at the beginning was reading the people's inquiry into climate responses. There was a big push in there about how onerous and what a barrier competitive grants funding is people. So to actually be able to provide targeted seed funding and funding to projects and programmes that was on a non-competitive basis, it was actually really important to enable action where it was needed most. And if we think about the groups that are disproportionately impacted in their community, often they don't have experience or time even if they have the experience to invest in grant applications. Often there's hours, weeks even of time put into a grant application. And also the reporting on grant projects make it easy, tell a story. That's what people want. They want the story of what happened that inspires further action.

Kirsten Diprose:

And action is what we need. But it's a tricky balance between making sure we get the research and the planning right, but then the timelines can't be so long that the planned action is no longer effective.

We've covered so much in this podcast and all of the guests you heard were speaking at our recent Think Tank event. And this podcast is really just a taste of that. So if you want to watch the videos or read the research, then go to the Vic Drought and Innovation Hub website and head to our In Focus page. There is so much more there.

Right now, I'll give the last word to Lauren Rickards, professor of Climate Adaptation at La Trobe Uni, on why we need to think in terms of systems. There's no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all plan, but we all have a role to play in shaping how our own communities innovate and address the challenge of climate change. This is how Lauren says we can do it.

Prof. Lauren Rickards:

What we are talking about is the need to walk and chew gum at the same time. We are going to need to be dealing and thinking about a whole range of different climatic related stresses at the one time.

My work particularly focuses on the crucial impacts of what's often considered second order or flow on effects, but they're the ones that sometimes are actually more consequential. We need to move beyond thinking about the direct physical impacts, those exposure maps, to thinking about what does that mean? Flow on effects. So to focus on the water aspect of it. So if your response to drought is to rely on irrigation, we've heard about the fantastic irrigation modernization projects, but the extent of that drought is unprecedented as the millennium drought was. And the spatial extent of that means that those irrigation sources are also short on water or your fodder source is also short on hay, et cetera, et cetera. Those strategies aren't going to work.

And when you start to think about those cascading effects and the collective effects or concurrent effects on those areas that we rely on, you start to see that we need to actually start thinking differently. And that's where we come down to what I'm increasingly thinking is kind of at the crux of all of this, which is thinking really about collective adaptation and collective wellbeing. None of us are going to solve this by thinking about, "What do I need?" We have to think more systemically but also more inclusively in the sense of, "Well, what is the purpose of adaptation? What are we trying to do here?"

Just to give an illustration, one of the key things that the new Climate Change Adaptation Lab that I'm setting up is focusing on is a question of work, and I mean that in the formal sense but also the informal sense, which is the purposeful activities to which we devote ourselves. When we think about what we spend our time doing in order to achieve something, what is that and what then should be the target of our adaptation? We're busy adapting existing organisations that happen to be here today. It's like there's a sort of snap audit of society today. And then we think, "Right, we have to adapt everything that's in this picture." And actually we need to be thinking, "Well, what are we doing? What are we doing it for? What do we need in the future? And how do we adapt that?" And that's a slightly different question, which I could go on about for a long time, but I'll leave it there.

Kirsten Diprose:

And I think we'll have to leave it here too. There has been a lot to cover, but gosh, I have found this subject fascinating. Thank you to Professor Lauren Rickards and to all of our guests in this episode of Innovation Ag. You also heard from Richard Eckard, professor of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Melbourne, Rebecca Lester, Professor of Freshwater Ecology at Deakin University. Caroline Welsh, Deputy Chair at Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water. Damien Wells, the Managing Director at Coliban Water. Councillor Jennifer Alden, Deputy Mayor at the City of Greater Bendigo. And Dona Cayetana, author at ADAPT Loddon Mallee. For our next episode, we're diving into circular economies.

You can find the episode transcript on our website, vicdroughthub.org.au. Thank you for listening. This episode is written and hosted by me, Kirsten Diprose, produced by Rachel Thompson. We have editorial input from scientists, academics, and farming groups involved in the Victoria Drought and Innovation Hub. This podcast is funded by the Australian Government's Future Drought Fund. Catch you next time.

Wimmera Mallee Pipeline. Wimmera Mallee Pipeline. Wimmera Mallee Pipeline. I did it.

Innovation Ag podcast Episode 8

Rainfall levels for many parts of Australia haven’t recovered since the devastating millennium drought.  Many rural communities are having to face a reality of landscapes and climate that have already changed, and are likely to continue to do so. So, what makes an effective climate adaptation initiative?

Following on from the previous episode about creating innovation systems on a national or regional scale, this episode looks at how innovation systems can function on a much smaller, local scale. We examine local innovation systems, through the lens of addressing the challenges of climate change in agriculture and in rural communities.

How are local water corporations, local government, scientists and community groups working together to offer effective solutions to drought? How so we make sure all the voices are heard, so that climate adaptation is not ‘top down’ but more grassroots in its design?

This episode draws from the speakers held at a recent Vic Drought and Innovation Hub Think Tank Event, held in Bendigo: “Are We Drought Ready?” Exploring local adaptation  

Hear from:

• Prof. Lauren Rickards, Chair of Climate Change Adaptation, La Trobe University

• Caroline Welsh Deputy Chair, GWMWater, member of the Victorian Agriculture Climate Change Council and the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee.

• Damian Wells, Managing Director at Coliban Water

• Prof Rebecca Lester, Freshwater Ecologist and Director of the Centre for Regional and Rural Futures, Deakin University

• Professor Richard Eckard, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Melbourne and Director of the Primary Industries Climate Change Centre

• Dona Cayetana, Community and Partnerships Program Manager, DEECA (Department of Energy Environment and Climate Action)

• Cr Jennifer Alden, Deputy Mayor at the City of Greater Bendigo