Amber Craig supporting climate adaptation in Murray Darling Basin

Amber Craig from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was the recipient of Queensland's Young Water Professional of the Year Award.

When the Queensland branch of the Australian Water Association (AWA) awarded its Young Water Professional of the Year, Amber Craig from the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) was the recipient.

Amber Craig is a hydroclimate analyst and senior project officer with the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, working at the science-to-policy interface. She further contributes to the water sector through First Nations reconciliation efforts and promotes diversity and inclusion through her leadership.

“My career in the water industry started with an earth sciences background,” Craig said. “I’m a geologist by training. As part of my Master’s, I did coursework in a range of subjects focusing on sedimentary geology, which was my specialty, and that led me to hydrogeology, meaning groundwater.”

Craig started at a consulting firm in Brisbane in 2019 before moving to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority in 2020.

“I’m really grateful that I found the water industry,” she said. “It aligns with many of my values and goals, and I am grateful I found the industry so early on in my career.”

Why the MDBA?

One of the things that attracted Craig to the MDBA is the opportunity to make a difference. She reflected on the droughts between 2017 and 2019. During this period, almost all of New South Wales was declared to be in drought by the middle of 2018, and other parts of the country were also experiencing drought conditions.

“It was a big catalyst for me to join the Authority,” said Craig. “Because of my interest in groundwater, I was particularly devastated seeing Chennai and Cape Town going to Day Zero of groundwater, meaning when they would not have any groundwater left. Closer to home, I saw the media showcasing the drought impacting the Murray-Darling Basin. I wanted to continue in the water industry, where I could utilise my training through my work and make a difference.”

She believed her movement to work in the MDBA had allowed her to make a difference in climate change. As Craig put it, it’s where the rubber hits the road when it comes to climate change and its impacts on people and the planet.

“I was excited to join the MDBA because it was a great opportunity to work at that highest level of influence,” Craig said. By working to set national-level policy, I can see that it’s really a foundation of bringing people together and bringing the States together for the good of the Basin. We can consider different perspectives and priorities and use the best available science to make informed decisions. It’s this collective mission that resonated with me.”

Craig is employed in the Applied Science branch, which aims to bring the best available science into the sustainable water limits theme of the upcoming Basin Plan Review. However, it’s not just the science that encouraged her to continue working within the Authority.

“It’s the people and the Authority’s community element,” she said. “I work with many intelligent and passionate people who bring together different ideas and skills. We need that to find innovative solutions to such complex problems.”

Craig relishes the opportunity to delve into the science and apply its solutions to a problem that has a big impact.

“In some regards, I’m a knowledge broker between researchers and scientists and policy and decision-makers,” she said. “It’s important to ensure they are talking to each other and have the best available information.”

The challenges

Governments of every stripe and scientists across the country have long recognised that managing the Murray–Darling River Basin is a challenge.

However, it’s not just one challenge. There are many issues, with different stakeholders pushing and pulling in different directions to achieve their unique goals.

“It’s challenging to consider all the issues facing the Murray–Darling Basin,” Craig said. “However, I think it’s a worthwhile challenge. One challenge is the broad network of communities and landscapes across the Basin. It’s an incredible patchwork of communities with different perspectives, priorities, and experiences. Even environmentally, there are different characteristics and climate drivers, from the northern basin in Queensland all the way down to the southern basin in South Australia.”

Factoring all these things together and being able to come together for an informed decision to get the best outcome is a tricky space to work in. Craig understands this challenge.

“I believe that much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked,” she said. “It’s the high-value, hard work that we have to do now. Getting out on the ground to have conversations with community members and being embedded in the environment reminds me why I do what I do.”

Working with First Nations groups

Craig has taken on additional responsibility outside her scientific research by expanding her cultural knowledge. She has spent time supporting the Authority’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

“Furthering my own cultural knowledge and reconciliation journey is something I have enjoyed from working for the MDBA,” she said. “It’s been among some of the most rewarding parts of my career and life. I’m so grateful for my experiences in this field.”

Craig has worked with First Nations staff members, as well as with nations on Country.

“The First Nations people I have worked with have been so generous with what they share and the insights they provide,” she said. “I have been with the agency for four years, I have furthered my cultural knowledge and understanding in that time. My understanding and respect for Country and the connection First Nations people have to Country and culture has grown. It really drives me to do what I do.”

Climate adaptation

By working with a range of communities, including First Nations and irrigators, Craig has developed a unique perspective on taking both a macro and micro approach to climate adaptation across the Basin.

“When we go out and talk to communities, they talk about the changes they are already seeing in their local area,” she said. “They tell us about the changes in the environment and the climate. We can see them adapt their ways of working or land utilisation.”

Craig pointed out that changes may impact First Nations people, as some ceremonies are tied to changes in the environment, seasons, and weather.

“At the macro level, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority has many teams concentrating on climate adaptation from a policy perspective,” said Craig. “I consider myself very fortunate to be at that policy-science interface.”

Part of her work on climate adaptation involves supporting the Murray–Darling Water and Environment Research Program (MD-WERP). This four-year, $20 million Australian Government initiative aims to strengthen scientific knowledge of the Murray–Darling Basin by generating new knowledge, innovation, and tools.

“I’m a coordinator for the climate adaptation theme,” Craig said. “In our stream, we are addressing the science within climate adaptation to bring to the Basin Plan Review. Some information from MD-WERP is already publicly available. More will be coming out in the next 18 months or so as we conclude the program. While I am not completing the research myself, I get to be an integral part of that whole process.”

The Murray–Darling Basin is a system facing profound future challenges in adapting to a hotter, drier climate. The theme aims to better understand how climate change will impact the Murray–Darling Basin, identify options to adapt to change, and evaluate potential outcomes for Basin values. The research will identify adaptation options and assess their efficacy across economic, environmental, social, and First Nations values. The research outcomes aim to support policy decisions and reduce the risk of more harmful than helpful outcomes.

Award winner and nominee

It’s been several months since Craig won the Queensland branch of the Australian Water Association’s Young Water Professional of the Year prize. She was Queensland’s representative at the national finals.

“To be a state winner and national finalist has left me both stunned and humbled,” Craig said. “I feel so grateful to be in that position. I am inspired to be nominated by many incredible young water professionals from across the country. I’m excited to meet them all at OzWater in Melbourne at the end of April.”

This is one of many awards Craig has won. Previously, she won the Chief Executive Award – Professional Staff Excellence – Team. It’s an internal award for ‘outstanding, collaborative work delivered by the River Modernisation Team’ for delivering the Barmah-Millewa Feasibility Study on time and within budget ($3 million), with notable community engagement success considering the sensitive nature of the work.

“I also won a few awards while studying at the University of Melbourne,” she said. “These included the P.W. Crohn Scholarship and the P.J. Adams Research Award associated with my post-graduate research. I am grateful to have received those awards, as they recognised the hard work I have put into my research and career.”


In Craig’s eyes, she wants to continue working in this space and leave the world better than she found it.

“I want to minimise the negative impact that climate change will potentially have on many people and the environment,” she said. I want to be able to walk away and be proud of the legacy that I leave. That extends to the workspaces I am in; I want to leave them in a better space and place than when I found them. If I can achieve even a small part of this, it would be a massive achievement in my career.”

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