Australia should have a national water strategy and a plan to protect coastal cities as rising sea levels threaten homes and businesses, the nation's independent infrastructure adviser says.
Infrastructure Australia has listed both initiatives among its top priorities for 2020.
It says this must include finding new water sources such as recycling, desalination plants and stormwater harvesting.
But Nationals leader Michael McCormack, who has ministerial responsibility for infrastructure, says his focus is on dams.
“Desal plants, fabulous, expensive water, IA has identified it, they have given it as a priority to government, but I want to build dams,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
“There are so many dam projects, they’re going to build climate resilience, they’re going to store water and they’re going to grow agriculture.”
He said supplying town water was up to state governments.
Infrastructure Australia’s annual assessment has also stressed the need for infrastructure to be built in a way that ensures it can be resilient to the “unprecedented risks” posed by climate change.
“Climate change brings with it higher temperatures, unpredictable seasonal rainfall and water availability, more extreme winds, more extreme weather events and bushfire seasons the likes of which Australia has never seen,” chair Julieanne Alroe says in the report, released on Wednesday.
“We must plan for resilience in our infrastructure networks based on a stronger understanding of these risks.”
The priority list has been developed using more than 200 submissions from state and territory governments, industries and the community, along with the latest infrastructure audit data.
It lays out six new high priority projects and 17 new priority projects, all of which have a full business case, worth a combined $58 billion.
It also adds as a high priority initiatives securing town water supplies and the creation of a national water strategy to guide governments, the private sector and everyday Australians on efficiently capturing and using water.
Demand for water across many Australian systems is increasing due to population growth and relocation, rising agricultural demands and environmental and cultural needs.
The changing climate is also altering the water cycle, while land and forest management are leading to changes to run-off and evaporation.
“Without appropriate planning for these challenges, there could be severe water shortages or restrictions in many parts of the country,” the report reads.
Infrastructure Australia has also suggested a coastal inundation protection strategy, with sea levels tipped to rise, and a national approach to waste and recycling management.