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a water crisis « Previous | |Next »
November 6, 2006

There is going to be a Water Summit in Canberra tomorrow morning. There needs to be. Things are serious.
The major storages of the Murray Darling Basin are running dry---the Snowy's storages are now at just 18 per cent of capacity. The inflows into the Murray River system during July through to Octocber were very low, and the October inflow was 50% lower (74 gigalitres) than the previous low (139 gigalites). The inflow into the Murray this year is a record low at only 550 gigalitres (billion litres) compared with a long-term average of 11,200gl It is looking as if the River Murray will be empty by the end of the current irrigation season, if next years autumn rains fails.

Howard is talking about protecting the farmers over the next six months. However, an empty River Murray means Adelaide faces no water. It will have to shift to desalinisation plants, just like Perth, and increase water recycling.

The assumption that it would keep on raining has proved to be erronous and our coastal cites are running out of water. Australia's climate is changing and it increasingly looks as if southern Australia is going to have get by with a lot less water as our water resources shrink. The National Water Initiative has stalled. There is still no national system of water trading and the promised to give the Murray River 500gigalitres within five years under the Living Murray First Step program has not been kept. Not a single drop has actually been returned to the river.

So what is going to be done at the Summit that will d be over in time for the Melbourne Cup? The talk from Howard is about considering emergency measures.

We could begin by buying out the Cubbie Station cotton farm in Queensland and so make a start on reducing the over-allocation of water in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Nationals are opposed to an kind of buy back of licences. The say that the commonwealth buying up water allocations in the near term, would be a matter of complete and utter last resort. What's the 3 storage dams for the Murray River running dry by May then? It's just a drought for the Nationals. It has nothing to do with climate change. It will rain next autumn and all will be well.

So the Howard Government is divided on the water issue.

We could do something about rice and cotton farming or dairy farms. A million litres of water is needed to produce one ton of rice, 450,000 litres of water are needed to make on tonne of cotton and 1000 litres is needed to produce on litre of dairy produce. Their allocations ccould be cut drastically. However, I cannot see the Nationals agreeing to that can you?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:09 PM | | Comments (4)


It always struck me as particularly naive that the driest inhabitable continent on earth would take on rice farming.

Once you realise that the hidden subsidies for the industry are immense, the folly is even larger.

We have made agriculture one of the cornerstones of our identity - without thinking that it probably has only a limited future on this continent.

Large acreage, high intensity farming is only possible with cheap, guaranteed water and cheap energy. Both of which seem to be a thing of the past.

Farming in Australia has always been innovative and driven - it needs to readjust at a faster rate than the rest of the country to survive. Of course, this will need political help to occur - very unlikely with the current set of pollies (from both sides), who ultimately, as demonstrated by the water failure, can't bring themsleves to make truly hard decisions in a timely manner.

parliamentary government is incapable of long term policy. it is driven by the requirements of election, and the necessary satisfaction of financial supporters.

the leaders of parliamentary factions are chosen by secret processes that reward qualities which would disqualify the possesor from power over a dog, much less a nation.

'something' will be done about water, it will be too little, too late, and done badly, for that is the probable outcome of any parliamentary activity.

the hidden subsidies for irrigated agriculture are huge.Protection rules in the name of agrarian socialism and this makes a mockery of the free market credentials of the Howard government.

There is little attempt to realistically price the cost of delivering the water or irrigators, whilst any feeble attempts to do so are quickly headed off. So much for the talk about letting markets allocate water for people.

Irrigators continue to argue for special consideration and that environmental flows should be reduced to accommodate the needs of irrigators first.


the long term planning is meant to be done by the Council of Australian Governments(CoAG), and to their credit, they have addressed the water issues.

But their plans are never implemented. Similarly with the 2004 National Water Initiative which charts the way forward.

It is politics that blocks the implementation of reducing the overallocation of water licences or the introduction of realistic price signals in the water market.