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Peter Cullen at the Brisbane Institute « Previous | |Next »
March 14, 2007

Peter Cullen is speaking at the Brisbane Institute tonight on the severe shortage of the precious resource of water. Many, including to Premier Beattie, respond to this shortage by throwing money at a few big projects, such as reviving the Bradfield Scheme. According to his speech notes in the Courier-Mail Cullen's argument is that:

The Murray-Darling Basin appears to be drying out. In the past six years inflows to the Murray River have been about 40 per cent of what has been recorded in the long term.This seems to be a combination of a drought that will eventually break, and climate shift that will not. Since the river was over-allocated before this happened, it is now clear that we are going to have to adjust to taking less water from the basin. Over-allocation means people do not get the volumes they anticipate, and the environment becomes degraded.

That is the history of water development in the Murray-Darling Basin. We have climate change at a time when our groundwater aquifers have just been emptied. That history indicates that the water crisis is not simply the result of historically variable rainfall being made more unpredictable by climate change, along with the pressures of population growth. The water problem is also a consequence of poor understanding and management of our water resources in the past.

Cullen adds:

It seems that with the climate shift we are now experiencing inflows to the basin that are about half what they were in earlier and wetter times, and it may be that the annual allocation of water will now only ever be about half of what the entitlement notionally says.This is how the system has always worked, and entitlement holders cannot expect to get access to water that doesn't exist, nor should they expect to pinch someone else's water, including that allocated to the environment.

That means an an efficient irrigation industry that can create enough wealth to pay its way and not rely on public subsidies re cheap water as it has in the past. It may well be that climate change will eliminate irrigation from many areas.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:05 PM | | Comments (8)


Jumping the conversation here from the previous water post.
For the home user: user pay is the best system for conserving I would think.
An aspect yet to be debated is that tennants may be charged for excess water use either ontop of rent or inclusive

I was always charged for excess water when I rented, so it already happens.

I've been loosely involved with the Murray-Darling for over twenty years, and it was overallocated well before that, yet they were still granting licences.

My personal feeling is that the damage is past fixing, especially in light of climate change.

One of the world's great river systems destroyed in 150 years.

pricing is a key.But that favours those with money. So, trapping rain water for drinking etc and recycling gray water for gardens are also needed.

Why is the focus still on imposing restrictions in dry areas in the hope there one day will be enough water?

The Far North of the country has boundless options in terms of agriculture and the ability (with our current understanding of ecologically sensitive development) to accommodate large population growth. A by product of this is cities like Cairns and Darwin are closer to our major (current and future) trading partners, which in turn would logically reduce the transportation costs (and hence environmental impact) of trade.

The major population centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are clearly going to struggle (water wise) with any future growth, and we know that the agricultural regions in Southern Australia are also at or beyond their sustainable limit.

Is this not a more logical approach to the problem? Sure, we need to do something about the current situation, but where should our focus be going forward?

you are right. Especially for cotton and rice. Try telling that to the Nationals though.

I think there are issues relating to elderly people drinking from rainwater tanks.

Also there are still a lot of asbestos sheeting roofs in QLD. I am not sure if there are issues relating to them. Certainly there would be for drinking.
I am sure there are isolated incidences of Tennant's paying for excess water...I was suggesting that it would become the norm.

In my bleaker moments I'm inclined to agree with you about the Murray-Darling Basin. It's ecological systems are in a very poor state due to the extensive over-allocation.

Its been irrigated agriculture that has done the damage, and most of that has beeen done since the Snowy Mountain Scheme. And the big irrigation lobbies are responding with their hand out for the Commonwealth to upgrade their infrastucture so they can use the water savings to increase their production. This has been goign on for the last ten years or more in SA. None of the savings go back into the river.

the water tanks we use in Victor Harbor are extensively filtered, with the filters regular cleaning. We have moved from the old rusty tanks full of mosquitoes that posed such a health risk.