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February 25, 2007

Well now. Howard delivered to SA on water last Friday.

He guaranteed a minimium flow in South Australia of 1850 gigalitres,with a strategic reserve kept for aside for drought conditions. So Howard ensured South Australia's water security. He also agreed that the basin should be managed by an independent commission of experts, and that there would be a review of the takover after 7 years.

That should boost his prospects for hanging onto the Liberal marginal seats in Adelaide at the next federal election.

Matt Golding

That's one issue politically put to bed. The commonwealth is in control and now needs to get on with the job. A way forward has been found and Howard can take the credit.

Now for climate change. It's connected to water as it means less rain and runoff in the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin. Alas for Howard, he's more rhetoric than substance on this issue.

Update: 26 February
On the ecological side of the water issue it is now probably necessary to start thinking in terms of reducing water use because the inflows into the Murray-Darling system will likely be reduced in the future, and the rivers are already stressed due to the basin wide over-allocation problem. Given the notable failure of the states to address over allocation of water in the Basin, the sustainable level of extraction is what is now needed. The water is just not there. This sustainability needs to include:

maintaining river health at an acceptable level;
serious cost-benefit assessment of irrigation proposals;
extensive use of drip irrigation technology;

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:01 AM | | Comments (3)


I am not sure that this is a good outcome.

So Adelaide and the new almond orchards become more dependent on the Murray? Or will the water just go to Lake Alexandrina and the southern Ocean. What about getting rid of those barrages below Lake Alexandrina and getting some real inflow as well as outflow from the system?

The Murray River has essentially been turned into an irrigation channel with the dams at the top of the system increasingly expected to supply SA at the bottom?

PS Adelaide is not even in the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area.

I was thinking politically-- re Howard retaining the Liberal marginal seats in Adelaide---not ecologically as you know. What use is a guaranteed amount of supply if there is little rain in the southern part of Murray-Darling catchment?

You raise a number of important issues about a working river. I see that they are in the form of questions, which enables an exploration of the issues, as I am no apologist for the SA position.

In addressing the issues my basic assumptions are: the flows in the Murray-Darling river system have been over-allocated by the states; these need to be clawed back through buying back licences from those wishing to sell; Howard is moving in the right direction re increasing environmental flows through infrastructure upgrades; Adelaide's future depends on it becoming an ecologically sustainable city.

1. 'So Adelaide and the new almond orchards become more dependent on the Murray?' Adelaide has to wean itself off its dependence on River Murray water.It can best do so by recycling the storm water from the western Mt Lofty Ranges catchment that still flows into the sea--into the St Vincent Gulf. many of the orchards and vineyards (eg McLaren Vale in the south and Virginia in the north can increase their usage of recycled sewerage water.

The Rann Govt is not doing enough here as it is still locked into dividends from SA Water which, as a corporation, makes profits from selling River Murray water to consumers. That increased shift to recycling (its hapapening in Salsbury) is where some of Howard's money can go under the National Water Initiative.

2. 'What about getting rid of those barrages below Lake Alexandrina and getting some real inflow as well as outflow from the system?' There is no flow from the river and very little from the sea through the mouth---too much sand buildup. The level of water on the northern side of the Goolwa barrages is lower than the level on the sea side so there is now minimal movement between the two through opening the barrages. The Corrong suffers badly as a result, since it depends on the interchange between fresh and salt water.

I agree with you about the barrages. They are there to protect dairy farmers plus Adelaide's water supply. My judgement is that a new weir will go in at Wellington (northern point of Lake Alexandrina) and both the lakes (Alexandrina and Albert) will eventually revert to tidal salt lakes. That is going to upset the Hindmarsh Island crowd who have invested heavily in their marinas, boats and Mcmansions. Expect fireworks.

3. The Murray River has essentially been turned into an irrigation channel with the dams at the top of the system increasingly expected to supply SA at the bottom?

Yes and No. Though I call it a working river it was always primarily an irrigation channel after the Snowy Mountains Scheme in the 1950s. It now no longer flows to the sea, so it is not a river anymore. Secondly, it's not a case of the dams existing to supply SA--they exist to supply an irrigation industry in 3 states, with NSW and Victoria using more water than SA.

Who uses the water and how it should be used is for the market to decide through water trading. Presumably, the diary farmers will eventually sell out. We need more water trading and less subsidies (re cheap water) for the irrigation industry. That industry needs to stand on its own two feet more. SA irrigation industry would compete quite well in a proper water market, even if some sections of the wine industry are into lots of water on young vines for cheap plonk.

4. 'PS Adelaide is not even in the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area.' Not quite: Adelaide now stretches to the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula and so includes Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island.

Neither are the cities /towns in the Upper Spencer Gulf (Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla), Woomera, and Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninula part of the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area. Like Adeliade, they will need to reduce their dependence on River Murray water, and can only ensure water security, and can only realistically do so by going the desalinisation route.

Again the Rann Government is not doing that much on this. They point to the skies and say it will rain soon re Eyre Pensinsula etc etc. You know the rhetoric.--history goes in cycles etc etc. It's not very convincing on the ground.

My over all position is that these issues need addressing urgently because there will be less rains in the southern part of the basin, less runoff into the Murray-Darling river system and less river flow. (The effect of global warming). SA--including both political parties--- has been holier than though on this, as the SA rivers that flow into the River Murray from the eastern MT Lofty Ranges (Marne, Finness, Bremington Bremer, Tookyarta etc) have been overused, as has the gound water in this region.

SA's record is not good on this ecology stuff. Its history has been one of water development at all costs and turning a blind eye to the ecological consequences of this in its own backyard, whilst pointing the finger at the other states.

The outcome of the Murray river drought is only going to get worse. The Governments are suggesting possible options but so far not one of them has come out and REALLY given their opinion. The farmers are the people i feel sorry for because they are suffering from this drought. They have families and farms which are their lively hoods and now they have nothing. The Governments are trying to pay them off and all they are getting out of this drought is depression.
The Government need to come out with a plan and FAST because the murray river will no longer be a river in a month or so. We need to work as a team, help farmers and save WATER!!!