Water and Society

May 26th, 2020

The Challenge

The land and water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin have been significantly modified for more than 100 years, and following years of declining environmental condition, more recent water reform processes have sought to re-balance water use across users within the Basin. The Basin’s regional communities are part of a complex and integrated system and are at the forefront of the changes due to water reform. The Australian Government holds significant data assets across the three main policy domains of natural resources, social/human services and economy. These data assets provide a great opportunity to explore an evidence base for supporting decision making and to provide policy insights to benefit regional communities.

Our response

This project explores policy questions to understand relationships between water conditions and socio-economic metrics i.e. to understand how access to water affects businesses and communities. The intent is to demonstrate delivery of benefits through a data-driven, robust and repeatable approach to assess how decisions about water sharing will benefit or impact our communities over time. A central goal of this project was to utilise across portfolio data assets to support repeatable analysis in an enduring way that enables the addition of new datasets in the future.

  • Our capability

CSIRO L&W provided expertise in environmental and socio-economic data analysis and visualisation to address the challenges involved in this project. The assessment was guided by a multi-agency working group and supported by ABS staff. Expertise in machine learning was provided through the addition to the research team of a Data61 analyst. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) was also engaged with in discussions of the analysis results.

  •  Science and Innovation

We recalculated an existing Adaptive Capacity Index developed for the Murray-Darling Basin by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. The original index was calculated using 2006 Census data and was here calculated using 2011 and 2016 Census data. Results were mapped for southern Basin regional communities and analysed to compare change over time in relation to water availability. To provide a more focused analysis, we used longitudinal business data to explore change. This was done for all postcodes in the Murray-Darling Basin, and then in four focal areas experiencing water reform processes in different ways. Our second component of analysis used machine learning methods to demonstrate data-driven identification of social and community groups. Using unit record level data we identified clusters that reveal new groupings relatable to community types. These groups can be used to explore opportunities for more targeted analysis and policy development and implementation in the Basin


Our preliminary activities in data discovery suggest analyses of microdata in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ DataLab will be a powerful tool for addressing vital policy questions in new ways, and for bringing to light important insights that span policy domains. Much work is needed to realise this vision in the long term, and in conducting these investigations we also identified the capacity development needs and opportunities for making the most of government held datasets. Working with CSIRO, the MDBA explored the potential of these analyses to inform evaluation of water reform impacts and inform policy development.

Recent interest from the Department of Health led to the calculation and provision of the Adaptive Capacity index nationally for investigating community vulnerability in relation to drought and COVID-19 impacts.


Adaptive capacity index for each SA1 part or all in Southern Basin community region boundaries, 2011 and 2016.


Contact Person

Martin Nolan

Additional Information