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Water politics « Previous | |Next »
September 26, 2003

As we have previously seen the claims from the hardline irrigators in the Victoria and NSW to environmentalists has been negative. They claim that the River Murray is good shape, that there is no need to cut allocations to irrigators and that ecological science has not shown the ecological outcomes of environmental flows. This has been their standard response to the Living Murray Project's claim that a minimium of 1500 gigalitres of environmental flows is necessary to restore whole of river benefits. That claim has been supported by ecologocal scientists as Alan over at Southerly Bluster highlights. The background to this political conflict is here

The public policy response has been to use the $500 million from CoAG to improve the health of 4 iconic sites. These are the Coroong/Murray Mouth esturay and Chowilla floodplain (scroll down) near Remark in SA; and the Barmah-Millewa Forest floodplain (near Eucha and Deniliguin) and the Gunbower-Koondrook wetlands/forest near Barham in Victoria/NSW. These iconic sites have the highest environmental priority on the River.

Apparently the rehabilitation plans and go ahead will be given at the CoAG meeting in November. That means the policymakers are thinking in terms of lower environmental flows than 1500 gigalitres; or more accurately have adopted an implementation strategy that allows time for the irrigation industry to adjust. Such a strategy would begin by securing water relatively slowly. Consequently, the environmental benfits are slow in coming and some irreversible ecology losses will occur.

There is the question of where the water is going to come from. The irrigators around Shepparton are saying that they are confident that no water is going to be taken from irrigators and urban consumers for environmental flows. And Murray Irrigation Ltd in southern NSW is helping to lead the irrigator's counterattack by denying that the overallocation of water is a central consideration.

Why are they confident? They have been assured they say. By whom? That woudl be the Minister? Would that be Warren Truss? The National Party have control of water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. They have got property rights and water trading for irrigators. The next step is to ensure that there will be no major upheavals within the agricultural community from addressing the problem of environmental flows. When they hear this talk about water reform for environmental flows and about plunging agriculture profits, decline in jobs, communities reeling. Why 1500 gigalitres would put half of them out of business. So there is going to be lots of community consultation.

So reform can only move slowly. Very slowly. And that means? If there are to be no cutbacks in irrigator allocations in the short-term, then that leaves us with a series of engineering works and operational changes to improve environmental flows. That means? Dredging the Murray Mouth and pumping water for 30% of the Chowilla floodplain. And the other 70%? Why that would count as an irreversible loss. Tough. But it gives time to the industry to adjust doesn't it.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:35 AM | | Comments (0)