Limits to Adaptation: Reducing irrigation water in the Murray-Darling Basin dairy communities

Margaret Alston, Josephine Clarke, Kerri Whittenbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing environmental disasters are creating significant uncertainty for farm families and their communities across the world. One site critically affected is the Murray-Darling Basin area of Australia, an area known as the food bowl of Australia. Following a lengthy drought at the turn of the century concerns were raised about water quality and river health. This led successive governments to introduce policies to systematically reduce water available for irrigated agriculture. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was developed by the Commonwealth government and is designed to secure water savings from irrigators and to direct those water savings to the stressed natural environment. This paper focuses on the impact of these changes on irrigation dairy families and their communities in northern Victoria. Using a model designed to test the limits to adaptation, we draw out the constraints, limits and barriers to adaptation for dairy families and their communities coping with reduced water access. This model highlights the types of socially just and fair interventions necessary to assist adaptation and focuses attention on thresholds and traps that may prevent adaptation. The model is relevant to other areas where climate changes and environmental disasters are shaping inevitable change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-102
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Limits
  • Water security
  • Dairy communities
  • Social justice


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