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January 19, 2008

Next weekend the Gold Coast will enjoy a 'wet weekend'. The spillway at the local dam is doing what spillways are supposed to do, spill, for the first time in ages. If we get very much more rain before the pipeline between here and Brisbane is finished the overflow could threaten to flood some areas. Poorer ones. The golf course flood plain has had a wall built around it that would make Israel proud. This bit of the story wasn't mentioned in the local paper though. Instead there was celebration in anticipation of a weekend when Gold Coasters will be allowed to wash their cars, houses and driveways. Lord knows the driveways need a good hose down after weeks of rain.

The fresh water showers at beaches will be turned back on until further notice. Hooray. We can have a dip, traipse back up the beach in the rain, then have a nice fresh water shower. And so can all the tourists.

We've got local council elections coming up so every story that can possibly be politicised through that lens is politicised to a stupid degree. I'm sure readers of the Gold Coast Bulletin were vastly impressed with the huge pic of their mayor in a bath, in a suit and tie, with no less than six rubber ducks and a floral shower cap. We don't do humiliation around here.

Celebrity gold medalist and mayor Ron Clarke and half a dozen Labor MPs are credited with winning these concessions from the wicked Queensland Water Commission which wanted to keep us on level 10,000 water restrictions regardless. It's not our fault the dam that supplies Brisbane was built in the wrong place. And besides, we've been better at reducing household water use than Brisbane.

Meanwhile, another Qld dam where the spillway was starting to look like a sick joke has runneth over. There are teenaged kids in the area who've never seen this in their lives.

When we're talking about a commodity that's essential for life, surely we can organise its management in some non-partisan way? Don't hold your breath. The furiously conservative population of the Gold Coast has been disciplined and blessed with rain, and the profligate Labor government in Broncos supporting Brisbane wants to tell us what to do with all our hard earned wetness. And there are people who have lived through several changes of government at local, state and federal levels with no experience of why a spillway is called a spillway.

| Posted by Lyn at 3:51 PM | | Comments (24)


The good thing about all this rain is that it means we wont have bush fires this summer.
Out west they are talking in terms of profits after the losses of damage. They are up beat even while they are treading water. Its good to see.
The stock market dies while crops begin to grow.
Isn't the world just a marvelous random place?

"Isn't the world just a marvelous random place?"

Meanwhile at my place my lagoon on the River Murray, like most if not all lagoons on the River Murray, is bone dry and covered in weeds in the places that are not crusted with salt and we enthused about the less than 2mm of rainfall that fell yesterday and which managed to give us a dribble in the rainwater tank which is our only source of water and it irritates me no end that youse guys are literally swimming in water and we aint got none....
You get the idea.

Sure is Les.
Another good thing is being able to sleep in summer. We chose not to have an air conditioner and this is the first summer we haven't questioned the wisdom of that decision.

Can't blame you. Some of the water falling around here will eventually get to your end of the system, but a long history of stupid and short sighted management blunders will see to it that it's not enough.

I think if you are irritated by the fact that we are getting rain and you aren't you have forgotten that we are all Australians. Can I remind you that a lot of the area in Queensland that is flooded now was DROUGHT DECLARED IN 2003. Thats a long time between drinks Fred.
We were looking very bad up till a few weeks ago when the rains started.
While having a good attitude Fred will not make it rain. It is a good thing to have in good times and bad.
Yabba Dabba Doo Fred.

Fair call, I didn't mean it to be as negative as you see it, I was trying to hit on the 'random'ness of it all and a little bit of envy may have crept in.

Les, it's not as though we haven't had our own bursts of water envy. Ideally we'd have a water management body that realised, as you say, we are all Australians. We'd have infrastructure to distribute the stuff as if we are all Australian instead of just wet or dry Australians depending on who we voted for.

The good thing now is that if we look at it as a federal issue with the recent rains the problem has been halved almost.

Now we can concentrate on S.A as the priority issue.

I hadn't thought of it that way Les, but it's a good way of looking at it. It should be easier to solve a problem in one place than in several.

I wonder just how bad things will have to get in SA before we start treating the problems there as a national priority, rather than a state issue.

Well I guess like Qld S.a is hoping that it rains. That is the solution. Eventually it will. The problem is to make what they have got last until then. While starting perhaps 2 desalination plants to cater for the city use.
As the mater of urgency has been alleviated I would look at the logistics of moving part of the Gold Coast desalination plant to S.A as a possible way to quicken the building process.

no rain is expected in Adelaide for the next few months. This is high summer here--hot and dry.The best we can hope for are some cools days around 28-30 degress with cool nights.

The water to flush the Murray can only come from the rains in Queensland. But Queensland and NSW will take most of it for their irrigation industriess. Their dams and storage systems must be filled and all their overallocated water entitlements along the Darling are met before any water moves downstream into the Murray.

There is no basin wide system of governance based on equality. Co-operative federalism is not a reality around water.

Well then Gary you have the solution.
Do nothing.

you penalize those states that have overallocated their water entitlements and reward those states that have reduced their overallocations. That 'you' requires the Federal Government to start calling the shots. If they can do it with health they can do it with water. Howard was stalemated by the Nationals who just denied the problem.

You have quite clearly outlined a number of things that need to change.

Well if I just heard the TV news correctly 'they' are going to release 4 gig of water down the Murray to the 'lower lakes' [which I presume means Alexandrina and Albert].
But the system needs [and I use that word carefully] lots more, about 100 times more, permanently, above the recent 'norm'.
And the only way that can happen is if irrigation, including farm dams, bores etc, along the entire catchment basin [Qld., NSW.,Vic.,SA]is permanently reduced. A fundamental change in our agriculture.
We look at the problem from the wrong end, from the wants of a few priveliged people first then down the political food chain with the river itself last. We should start with the needs of the river being top priority and humans get what is left over. No other way will be economically sustainable. Compensation may be necessary but thankfully money is cheaper than water.
Desal, recycled water, rain tanks,storm water storage are all 'noice' ideas [ but hugely expensive] but nowhere near an adequate long term solution. Someone, [Kevin, Mike, Anna, Penny are just a few names that come to mind] has to bite the bullet and take the razor gang to the irrigation industry in the country.
Before we lose the river completely.

yes you are right. 4 gig is nothing at all. Howard used to talk about returning 350 gig to environmental flows a few years ago. At the time that was considered insufficient. People considered 1500 gig to be the amount needed in environmental flows to have a healthy working river system.

Will the states cancel some of the entitlements now that people have walked off the land? Nope. The water entitlements will be sold. So nothing is done to reduce the over allocation.

Would it be better to cut the number of those entitled to water or cut the amount of water that all are entitled to.
What percentages and for what time period?
How much compensation do you think will be involved? and how much is a valid amount per farmer?

"Would it be better to cut the number of those entitled to water or cut the amount of water that all are entitled to."


Step 1.
Cap all irrigation licences, halt all water trading, anybody want to sell water licence, the govts will buy them at average price for the last 3 years. [that will go down well, but hey what else can responsibly be done?.
2 [a]. 10% permanent reduction all licences by Jan 2009 along the total catchment area.Currently in SA the irrigators are allowed to use 30% of allocation [at least that is the latest I heard], so if we suddenly got masses of water then the new limit becomes 90% maximum, 5% p.a. further reduction until, and this is the critical point, a level is reached where all needs urban, irrigation and environmental, can be sustainable in the long term according to latest CSIRO type advice. Probably down to 50-60% of current allocations, maybe less.
2 [b]..simultaneous to above...Buy out individual irrigators lock stock and barrel,on a voluntary basis, offer them 5 year work contracts in the local community at average income at local councils, hospitals, schools, revegetation projects etc and a job training process as well for their futures.
Obviously this is going to cost more than a bit, but hey, money is cheap.
2[c]Rigidly enforce water efficient usage and measurement effective immediately as in Jan 2009.If an irrigation area is 'inefficient' then close it down.
I live in an irrigation area, I am an irrigator [when my lagoon has water].
Water efficiency is a joke around here [and in the Riverland into Vic, in Qld and NSW.]
No open channels all. From 2010 [January]. I can already hear the squeals, but the very idea of channel irrigation in semi-arid Australia is ludicrous.
Ditto sprays of any sort at all.
I pass by giant sprays frequentl, putting millions of litres of scarce water into the air on hot [40 c] windy days. Some of it gets onto the crop.
Justify this. Impossible.
Irrigators have had at least 15 years that I know of to improve their systems so I'll turn a deaf eye and ear to their whinging.
If it can't be grown economically except by open or spray, then don't grow it.
My preference is not to compensate or help them financially to do what they already should have done but what the hell give them the costs back after they have made the improvements and offer cheap loans along the way.
Its only money.

There would be more to it than this but you get the idea,
Its all straightforward simple bleeding obvious stuff that should have been done yonks ago in a mutually cooperative manner but its too late for that now we are are well into a terminal crisis point with the river and unless 2 simple overarching steps are taken:
1. reduce the amount taken out of the river
2.increase the amount put into the river
as the above steps try to achieve then the river will die and millions of people will suffer from non potable water and irrigation will lose out anyway.
I don't expect to win popularity polls, I expect this to cost a few billion dollars, there is no need for reasearch, we have all the info we need, its just a case of acting on it.

It won't happen of course.

I'm barking at the moon. The entrenched political power of the irrigation lobby, the connivance of the Lib/Nats, the cowardness of the state ALPs, the apathy, she'll be right, push the blame onto someone else, how dare you even suggest 'retrenching' farmers etc etc will stop it happening.

And I'll sit on my cliff and watch the river in its death throes.

On a personal level.
How are the people in your area reacting to the situation.
What is the walk away rate?
How many are holding on in the hope of a compensation package?
How are the real estate and land values moving?
Do you anticipate a higher suicide risk?
How visible are the community welfare programs?

Hard questions.
Firstly some water usage stats for you, as background:!OpenDocument
Note that irrigators use about 4 times the amount of River Murray water, at no charge, that Adelaide plus other urban uses in a drought year at a cost of , very roughly, some millions of dollars to the domestic consumers.
"How are the people in your area reacting to the situation."
Caveat: my area may not be typical and this is my perception.
Blase. Apathetic. Fatalistic.Mildly confident all will be well 'soon'. A few years ago the river was so low the riverboats couldn't turn around and their tourist trade was hurt. Then things got better so the expectation now is 'she'll be right'.
It was not a major federal election issue here, and I was closely involved in that.
Be aware that tourism and general services are the major dollar generators and employers here and irrigation is less important economically than generally believed or publicised.
And the nature of the irrigation varies.
Big companies use the most water, some managed from interstate [NSW mainly I think] and some overseas. They employ workers. This is AWA country, part time, contract, casual, seasonal labour [even backpackers].That was the big election issue, cos tourism has the same characteristic employment pattern, and why there was a greater than 10% swing to the ALP.
Big companies can be flexible in their production, they can reduce worker hours and play with water. The trick is to buy extra water [about 2-3 years ago there was a huge splurge on buying licences] so that when you have a quota of say the current 30%, then you have licences for more than you need so 30% goes close to giving you want you want. Note that in drought years water usage drops relatively little. Big companies can spend millions on licences. Small mobs/family units find that difficult.
Also it depends where you get your water from. Straight out of the river? No probs. Out of a backwater/lagoon that is now dry, then you have a problem obviously. Big companies take straight from the river.So the biggies are relatively OK but their workers are worried. Including my neighbour. The word is there could be bad news for some or many after the holidays, that's next week!
There is an awful lot of poverty along this stretch of the river about to get worse.So how are the 'family' irrigators going? Well the ones I know seem OK, many [well, some at least]are using their blocks as tax offsets against other income.
But I would have expected there to be many 'walk aways' [a la the bloke on Channel 7 recently]. That doesn't seem to be happening. There are no ads for sales of such by the local real estate companies, I checked today. Strange. "Hanging on in quiet desperation" maybe? Don't know. Compensation hasn't been mentioned in the irrigation lobby literature I receive [I'm an irrigator myself, you see]. So I don't know what's going on. Denial?
Don't know. Real estate prices are booming along here, mainly driven by recreational river users. Want a very small house block with you beaut shack 'ideal for skiing' [quote]? Expect to pay $420.000. Ordinary house [very ordinary] in town, about $200,000 plus, up from les than half that a few years ago.
What community welfare programs? That was the other major swing motivator here at the election.
Don't start me on that topic, I get angry, outsourcing to unqualified groups has resulted in poor services to put it mildly suffice it to say. Ther are essentially bugger all services within 70 kms of where I live, doesn't effect me but it does others.Obviously a lot of locals blame the federals rather than the state. Its still a very safe Lib seat tho'.
Without being insensitive, [and a close friend of mine shot himself recently] suicide is not the risk it is made out to be. General poverty, domestic violence, insecure incomes, high costs [petrol pricing is a major issue], poor services etc are all biting more than the 'water crisis'. But getting the usual degree of attention.
Most of this could have been avoided of course. Meters on water pipes were only really introduced about 4 years ago, until then nobody knew how much water was being used, and despite metering they still don't. Trust me on that.
Somewhere in a govt. document of about 3 years ago is the admission that the total licences allocation exceeds the flow.
Read that again slowly.
The river is the real victim here. Irrigators, other workers, businesses, services can all be fixed, theoretically at least. Money and will could do it, as contrasted to greed, stupidity and deliberate ignorance.
My last sentence in the post above is serious. I was speaking to a scientist recently who is studying the Coorong and he was nearly in tears. I was spruiking up the ALP to some nunga acquaintances of mine during the election campaign and it was bloody hard to look them in the eye. this is their land.
We all know this but it just keeps getting ignored.
OK I'm depressing myself again.
Thanks for your interest.

Sounds to me that your area will be somewhat insulated by your tourist industry. I say that for 2 reasons because not only do they spend money they have an impact on the realestate prices by buying houses and keeping the town alive so the prices dont drop right down. When they do they put people in a position where they owe more than they can sell for. This is a bad senario as you can see from whats going on in America. The house rises that you mentioned seem consistant with most of the rest of Australia. So as much as we all hate those wankers that roar into town in their 4wd that have never been off road we must live with them like the ants and the aphids. Who is who I'm not sure.

Your early comment threw around the idea about the government giving people jobs for 5 years. You must of nodded off for a while when you wrote that. The best you can hope for is the dole.

1. reduce the amount taken out of the river
2.increase the amount put into the river
sums it up I think

Thanks for your input Fred.

That's all pretty darn depressing. In a way you'd be better off if it hadn't rained up here, which will only serve to keep the she'll be right myth alive when some of it gets down there.

I have complete sympathy with your concern for the river, as opposed to water supply. It's horrible, but where money is involved the last thing we can expect is a reasonable solution.

The Australian reports that cotton growers are busily bottling up the flood waters in the Murray-Darling tributaries as fast as they can go.

Though the Waregoo River in Queensland is in flood, the Toorale cotton station (it is the property of the British-owned Clyde Agriculture) in northwest NSW, will take 80% of the water before it reaches the Darling. That cotton farm is why people downstream from Toorale who depended on the Darling often get no benefit from flows in the Warrego.

Therein lies the problem.The NSW government needs to do something about the way it has allocated water licences. It has always backed off in the past.

Same in Queensland. Farmers downstream of Queensland's giant Cubbie cotton station, which is licensed to store 450,000ML 300km northeast of Bourke, say they are also missing out on flows from recent rains. So what is the Bligh Government going to do about the water licences? Nothing.

So much for water sharing in the Basin. The states have really screwed it up between them.

Cubbie's had a bit of unwanted attention with shortages up here and the Beattie govt did take steps to loosen their hold on water. Not sure exactly what though and it doesn't seem to have been very effective.

Cotton uses way more water than is practical, Cubbie was using way more water than the crop needed and cotton is also fertiliser hell, which means run off causes its own problems.

Farms have also been paying an infrastructure fee whether they get the water or not, which a lot haven't. They've been complaining about paying for water they haven't been getting, though to be fair, it kind of makes up for years past when they've taken more than they were allowed and more than they needed.

The name Cubbie strikes terror into Qld politicians. I image Toorale does the same to NSW ones. We currently have a situation where a couple of big farms are witholding a commodity necessary for life from a big chunk of the population as well as the health of the system that is part of our collective heritage. Disgusting isn't it?