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Global insights into water resources, climate change and governance


The threats of climate change and the trade-offs between extractions and flows are examined for the Colorado, the Murray, the Orange and the Yellow Rivers. In all four basins, and over a long period of time, outflows have greatly reduced as a direct result of increased water extractions. Although climate change will aggravate hydrological impacts on river systems, currently high levels of water extractions remain the principal contributor to reduced system flows. Changes in governance, including sharing the variability between the environment and consumers, are urgently required if the health of these rivers is to be maintained.

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Figure 1: Location of the four river basins.
Figure 2: Colorado River.
Figure 3: Yellow River.
Figure 4: River Murray.
Figure 5: Orange–Senqu River.


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This paper is dedicated to our good friend and colleague, the late Richard Norris. We thank C. White for compiling some of the data and C. Hilliker for preparing the figures and maps.

Author information




R.Q.G. conceived and led this research. J.P. coordinated its preparation and contributed environmental flow elements. R.D. and J.W. made important conceptual contributions, assessed the Murray–Darling and aided with editing. G.F., M.W., B.U., R.M. and X.Y. provided analysis of the Colorado, Orange or Yellow Rivers. N.C., D.C., Q.J., T.K., A.L., R.N., H.P. and J.Q. each contributed to the original conception of the research and analysis of the Murray–Darling.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Quentin Grafton.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Grafton, R., Pittock, J., Davis, R. et al. Global insights into water resources, climate change and governance. Nature Clim Change 3, 315–321 (2013).

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