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water woes « Previous | |Next »
May 18, 2007

It is what I had feared. It is not just the dams (Hume and Dartmouth) along the river system are at just 5.7% of capacity, and are in real danger of running dry, or the continuation of the low record of inflows into the system this year. Significant rains and inflow are needed in June.

There is less water (stream flows) flowing into the Murray-Darling Basin that has been previously estimated because surface water and ground water have been regarded as separate systems and so allocated as separate sources, when they are interconnected and around 40% of the inflow into the Murray-Darling comes from ground water.

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Peter Brooke

According to the AFR today (subscription required, p. 8) hydrologist Richard Evans states that ‘if (groundwater) extractions continue to grow, by 2050 the loss to the River Murray will be around 711 gigalitres’. Such a loss is equivalent to half the water that needs to be put back in the River Murray to restore its health.

John Quiggin has more on this, as does Harry Clarke.

So there is less water for agriculture and urban use (including Adelaide) than estimated and greater pressure for cut backs in water allocation licences. The Nationals, who oppose any cut backs, are being pushed into a corner. As are the downstream irrigators who rely on the unregulated use of ground water, and state governments who have allowed the unregulated use, and mismanagement, of ground water when the cap was placed on water taken from rivers. If you pump out a lot of the groundwater, then there isn't much left for the river.

Will this overcome the current denial about the extent of the country's water crisis and its long term implications? The Nationals argue that water should be returned to the environment through efficiency gains rather than buying back licences and that the state should fund the improvements in infrastructure to achieve the efficiency gains.

At the moment the Government is doing very little about water on the ground, whilst Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister of Environment, is being pretty flaky on water. He dismisses the ground water issue, downplays the commitment to buying back water allocations on a voluntary basis, waffles on about the reasons for postponing the implementation of the hastily prepared $10 billion water plan, and refuses to release information and reports supporting the water plan. Presumably the Nationals are blocking. Eventually the Nationals will be forced to back down on their opposition to cutting back the overallocation of water licences.

What will also need to change is the water restrictions policy whereby urban consumers make relatively small cuts in their water use, as this is not a sustainable way to plan for the country's future water supply. Recycled storm and wastewater is a better approach. So is repairing leaky ageing infrastructure. State governments governments have resisted calls for more spending on the nation's dilapidated water infrastructure. They continue to strip $1 billion from the profits of their publicly owned water bodies, with most of the money being redirected by the states for spending in areas unrelated to water.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:44 AM |