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How drought will affect the Margaret River Region

Last week we learned that the Southwest region of Western Australia is in the middle of a severe meteorological drought. We thought that we'd take a closer look at just what that means for the area. 


Located around 270km from Perth in the Southwest corner of Australia, the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is an area renowned for its rolling vineyards, pristine surf beaches, and dense karri forests. Known for its moderate Mediterranean climate, the region charms residents and tourists with its abundant biodiversity and world-class wines, making it an important part of the Western Australian tourism and agricultural economies.  But rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall, attributed to climate change, are setting the stage for a new normal – frequent and harsh drought conditions.

Winter months in the Margaret River region are typically the wettest, receiving a significant portion of the annual rainfall during this period, making it a critical time for replenishing water supplies and contributing to the growth of the renowned vineyards and forests. Currently however, across much of the south-west half of Western Australia, rain totals are sitting in the lowest 5% of historic observations since 1900. (source: Bureau of Meteorology)

Map of Australia showing rainfall deficiencies since Dec 2021Image: Map showing the severity of rainfall deficiencies across Australia from December 2021 (Source: BoM)

Climatics data showing severe drought in southwest Western Australia

Data shown by EWN's Climatics platform shows severe drought conditions throughout the lower parts of
Western Australia, particularly the Margaret River region

Data from our own climate risk platform, Climatics, shows the severity of current drought conditions through the region, which Climate Scientists and Meteorologists agree will have severe repercussions for the area.

The Impact of Drought

The heart of the Margaret River economy, its wine industry, is particularly vulnerable to drought. In 2021-2022, the wine industry in WA produced over 8.5% of the value of Australian wine production and was estimated at over $750 million (source: Wines of WA). Increasingly dry conditions have been monitored by wine makers across the globe, and they have seen stressed grapevines which have stunted the growth of shoots and vines, leading to smaller and more irregular harvests. On top of this, the quality of the wine can be impacted, as water stress may alter the balance of sugar, acids, and other compounds in the grapes. The Margaret River in particular is known for its Chardonnay - These changes not only affect the region's economic stability but also risk damaging Margaret River's reputation for premium wines on the global stage.

Moreover, the impacts are not limited to the vineyards. Drought conditions affect all sectors of agriculture. Water shortages can lead to reduced yields in other crops, increasing food prices, and even causing shortages of certain goods. The local livestock industry could suffer as well, with dry conditions impacting the availability and quality of feed.

Local Ecosystems

Margaret River's unique ecosystems, a vibrant tapestry of karri forests, wetlands, and coastal areas, are also at risk. Reduced rainfall affects the health of these ecosystems, leading to less vigorous forest growth and increasing the susceptibility of flora and fauna to disease and pests. The decrease in water availability can lead to reduced habitat quality for aquatic and water-dependent species, impacting biodiversity.

As the forests dry through drought, the risk of bushfires increases, which threaten both human habitation and natural environments. As vegetation dries out, the risk of fire increases, potentially leading to a cycle of ecological and property damage that's hard to break.

thomas-schaefer-grapes-in-sunshineMargaret River's wine industry is already having to adapt to drier and shorter growing seasons

Community Impact

The effects of drought also reverberate through the human communities of Margaret River. Decreased water availability can lead to restrictions on usage, affecting households, local businesses, and public spaces. This also has a knock-on effect on tourism, a key industry for the region, as water restrictions and the potential increased risk of bushfires can deter visitors.

For the people who call Margaret River home, watching the landscape change and the ways of life they have known for generations become more challenging can also take a psychological toll. It's a less tangible but equally critical impact of drought, a constant reminder of the broader climate crisis at hand.

Understanding these impacts paints a concerning picture of a region under threat. Yet, it is in acknowledging these challenges that we can begin to form proactive and effective responses through communities, businesses and innovation. 

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