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as the Darling dries up « Previous | |Next »
September 27, 2006

I watched the ABC’s Two Men in a Tinnie last night. The poor old Darling. It is highly regulated and barely flows. It's not just the drought --it is corporatized irrigated agriculture taking too much water out of the river. It is highlighted by Cubbie Station in Queensland, in the headwaters of the upstream in the Darling-Murray system being surrounded by water, but over the border in NSW, downsteam from Cubbie, there are properties that once had floods every year for a 100 years, but now haven’t seen a flood in years. The Beattie government allowed the huge Cubbie station water harvesting scheme.

unknown Courier Mail

The establishment of a national Office of Water Resources is a good step forward to ensure a federal focus and co-ordination of water issues. Having Malcolm Turnbull running it is much better than some National Party hack who rants on about greenies, even though Turnbull's market approach (the price of water will rise, a water trading system, private investment in water infrastructure) will primarily benefit agribusiness. Water consumers have little say in this process and the market will not deliver environmental flows to the Murray-Darling system. Governments must intervene to ensure that.

We do have the COAG Water Reform Framework and the National Water Initiative (NWI), which outline the way forward for meeting our future water needs. This focuses on reforms to improve how we manage water including introducing trading options will allow water to move to its higher value uses. Yet t here has been little--no---progress on restoring environmental flows to the River Murray despite the Commonwealth putting in $500 million. There is still no sustainable water policy even though climate change means hotter temperatures and less water in the lower Murray-Darling Basin.

What we saw on Two Men and a Tinnie was that the rural regions are already facing extremely low levels of water supply--- eg. Wilcannia in western New South Wales. Similarly in central and southern Queensland, and in regional cities, such as Goulburn. That looks like the future. The state governments are relying heavily on demand management in the cities as a means of meeting future water needs, even though water restrictions and other demand management strategies can only help to constrain demand in the short term. Without additional supply, restrictions are ineffective in constraining water demand for the long-run. Though recycling water in the capital cities is one of the most effective means of reducing the amount of water drawn from our rivers, few state governments are committed to investing in that in any substantive way.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:44 AM | | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference as the Darling dries up:

» a barren country from Public Opinion
I see that my understanding here was wrong. It is no longer a case of the Darling barely flowing. Those days have gone. The Darling has stopped flowing. The surrounding country in NSW is barren: Tamara Voininski, Dry bore, 2002, AgenecVU Henry Lawson's... [Read More]



"The Beattie government allowed the huge Cubbie station water harvesting scheme"

I think you will find that the water rights for Cubbie station were in existence long before the election of Beattie. If we were serious about the Darling, the Federal Government would buy out the owners of Cubbie.

yes you are right. The water licences were issued long before the Beattie Government--they are a legacy of the political patronage of the Bjelke-Peterson Nationals. They were issued without any consideration for the environment or the rest of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Cubbie Station just bought a whole lot of them up. The lack of water downstream means that there is an overallocation of licences.

The solution is simple, as you say. The overallocated water licences can, and should be, bought back by the federal and state government.

"Cubbie Station just bought a whole lot of them up"

The person behind the 'buy up' was once a public servant whose responsibilities included water rights. A type of 'insider trading'.

the public servants name was John Grabbe wasn't it? The water licences were created by the former Borbidge National Party government in Queensland, with no environmental impact studies. Now the Queensland Government is planning to legitimise the status quo retroactively in the Culgoa-Lower Balonne region of the Murray-Darling Basin. It's a national disgrace.

Cubbie station is a problem. With around 51 water harvesting licences in an average year Cubbie can take about 200,000 mL of water and in a good year, about 500,000 mL. And for the privilege, the station pays just $3700 a year.

Queensland is years behind schedule in delivering a cap on water diversions from its one third share of the Murray Darling basin and is facing increasingly vocal demands from the Commonwealth and other States to deliver. The reason is that the Narran Lakes, the world listed wetland which hosts migratory birds from Siberia and Western China, that is just over the border in NSW, is facing ecological collapse due to lack of water. The Commonwealth government is charged with protectingthe Narran lakes under international treaties.

So you can see why water development in the form of Cubbie Station is the current environmental flashpoint.Its diversion channel carried the flood waters of the Culgoa River into Cubbie's huge storage areas. If you harvest water off a flood plain, it doesn't get into your river. So Queensland and New South Wales are caught up in a cross-border water dispute.