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rain, water plans, Murray-Darling Basin « Previous | |Next »
February 27, 2008

It hit me when I flew into a lush and green Brisbane on Monday. The heavy coastal rains that have fallen on eastern Australia have fallen outside the Murray-Darling Basin catchment. Though there has been some rain in the catchment, it is not enough to alleviate the chronic water shortages. Climate change needs to shift to the top of the agenda for managing the Murray-Darling Basin.

Since the future is one of significantly less water, and a drying of the southern rivers, the old issue of the over allocation of water entitlements--especially in NSW--- remains to be addressed. A new regime is needed.

Howard's old water plan for the Murray-Darling Basin was biased to assisting irrigators to improve the efficiency of existing irrigation infrastructure, whilst the buying back of water entitlements was more or less an afterthought that was never acted upon. That irrigator friendly plan, based on unfettered irrigation, was all about protecting the regional power base of the Nationals in Victoria and NSW.

The emphasis needs to be reversed. The buy-back process must be the core of any water plan. It must target the dairy farmers in the Goulbourn and Murray River catchments and give the environment an equally secure share of the water.

So it is good to see that Mike Young, the water economist, advocating that the 10-year Howard plan to hand out nearly $6 billion to irrigators for efficiency improvements should be scrapped. He proposes that $5 billion of this would be spent during the first term of the Rudd Government to compensate the 15,500 irrigators in the basin for the permanent restructuring, and in most cases cutting of their permanent water entitlements. About $1 billion would be spent on efficiency upgrades but only after the reallocation of water to deliver equal property rights to irrigators, the environment and all other direct and indirect users of water in the system.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Comments

Comments

As a “CONSTITUTIONALIST” I wonder if anyone ever considered what is constitutionally appropriate?
If I were to purchase a piece of land along the Murray then no State Government let alone a Federal Government could deny me “reasonable usage” of water as long as the “reasonable usage” does not interfere with navigation.
Buying up water entitlements may be beyond constitutional powers of the Federal Government!
In my various books in the INSPECTOR-RIKATI® series I have canvassed this already extensively. It is within Section 101 of the (Federal) Constitution Inter-State Commission’s power to deal with the issue where it relates to trade, etc. not for the Federal Government or for that matter a State Government to interfere with.

Its an interesting document which I'm working my way through at the moment. I like that it recognizes the immediacy of the problem, the absolute need to reduce irrigation allocations [rather than prevaricate by fiddling with 'efficiencies' and other fanciful irrelevancies] the division between the upper and lower Murray basin both geographically and politically, the political need to placate the irrigators by throwing some cheap money at them, but MOST importantly of all the absolutely imperative need to place environmental flows at the top of the priority list.
I'll need to look at the details though, a quick glance produced a few discordant notes and some seem to merit a closer look .
I would like to see an immediate 10% permanent reduction in all water allocations, not sure of the cost of that but as I have said previously, its only money and we have plenty of that, in all states just to get the ball rolling and to prod the irrigators into their expected chorus.
What with Peter Cullen's thing last week and now this, it seems that the snowball is at last rolling down the hill rather than melting instantly in hell.
Addendum.
Not sure Penny and co. have got the message yet tho', she seemed so proud of the piddle in the pond symbolism of spending a trivial $55 million on water buyback last recently.

Fred,
I note that Young and McColl remark that a problem arose under the National Water Initiative:

Unfortunately, without the financial discipline imposed by competition payments on state and territory governments, water reform progress has slowed to a snail like pace and, to make matters worse, many of the old ad hoc water policy and administration habits have started to return.

They go on to say that:
Because we have glued a water-trading system onto an allocation regime that was never designed for the world we now find ourselves in, the system is going backwards faster than reforms are taking it forward. As many are aware, the southern part of this system is now seriously over-allocated. Moreover, as a result of the shift to a long dry period, like several of those experienced in the first half of last century the lower part of this system is now being run below empty. This is not sustainable.

They say that we are living in the 21st century and it is time to reshape, time to future
proof the system by decoupling it from the past – decoupling it from all the arrangements that cause problems.

It's a bit of straight talking isn't it.

Yes, it is straighter talking that what has come up to now.
Necessarily so.
Long overdue.
This is, at this early stage of my reading of the document, my favourite quote:
"The causes of the Murray-Darling Basin’s problems stem from a
flawed allocation regime...... The short answer to the question: “Can the arrangements set out in the new Water Act be confidently presented as likely to work well in
times when water is abundant, in drought and cope during a
prolonged dry period?” is NO.
The Basin’s water resources, its river and aquifer environments and its people all deserve a regime that can be expected to work well in long dry periods and in times when water is abundant. The system has to be able to cope with change."
I like that capitalized "NO".
Simple, direct.
That is starting to call a spade a spade isn't it?
The system is not functional, it must be changed.
I'm not sure what I think of current and proposed water-trading at this stage, I'm withholding judgement until I have a long think.
I have always found the lack of government supervision of the current system to be incredible. I have the ability to sell my licence to anyone anywhere for whatever purposes imaginable and the Environmental depts. are not involved. Its just a straight finacial arrangement between me and whomever with only possibly an agent involved. Crazy.
And the actual water itself costs nothing, whilst urban domestic users have to pay for it. Fundamentally inequitable.
I need to read the whole document very carefully but I haven't got the time at the moment, by the weekend I hope to discuss it with some informed people and look at some of the detail.
But it seems to be definite progress, an upgrading about the way we talk about the issue. And I would love to see it get some real media attention.

Fred,
John Quiggin argues in the AFR that:

At least since the National Water Initiative in 2004, it has been clear tha the problems arising from overallocation of water could be adddressed only if governments were willing to buy water rights back from irrigators. Ecologists, economists and environmental organizations all made the same point, but ran into a brick wall of opposition from politicians and irrigators organizations.

So progress was glacial under Howard. The right step has been take under Rudd:--Penny Wong, the Water Minister, has announced a tender to buy water rights back from irrigators willing to sell, allocating $50m for the current financial year.

$50m is nowhere enough. $500m is needed to buy back 500 gigalitres to reach the target for environmental flows agreed under the National Water Initiative.

I still haven't had time to read the whole document carefully and I'm not at my computer where the doco currently lives.
But a conversation with an 'informed person' came up with these 'wrinkles', apparently being quietly mooted by some persons 'of some import' [in the words of Janis Joplin].
That the entire water resources of the entire basin be given a number. Annually, according to water availability.
That each licence then is referred to as having an allocation of "X" where "X" is the value of that licence as a fraction of the total overall water available to irrigation.
On an annual basis.
So a licence currently of 500 meg which is .13% of currently available water [I'm making up numbers here to try and explain the concept] would be described as a .13 licence. .13 of THAT which is available that particular water year depending on other needs, storage, rainfall etc.
So a .13 licence might translate out to 600 meg [lots of water available for irrigation, its a good year] or 216 meg [much less water available, its a bad year]. In all cases AFTER envirinmental and domestic needs .
Interesting concept is it not?
Another 'wrinkle' was that all licences should be owned by the Depts of Environment whoever and water allocated each year according to availability and all water trading requires govt approval of....here's the third 'wrinkle' .... a nationally constituted 'independent' governing body deliberately modelled on the [quote] 'highly successful' Reserve Bank of Aust. example.
You can probably guess what my reaction to #3 was.
There may be other ideas floating.
At this stage I'm less interested in the actual worth of each idea as compared to the fact that it seems that at least water is being talked about in ways that do not conform to the old political paradigms.
Progress.
On a side note I received in the mail an offer to be granted extra water soon as a result of 'carry over' water becoming available. Included was a form to be used to apply to be granted the privelige of using all the water I didn't use last year [in my case 100% of my allocation!]. Which I can add to my current allocation.
And no administrative fee will be charged, isn't that nice?
Now if the powers-that-be could only organize to have some water in my lagoon so I can actually pump from it I might be able to take advantage of their kind offer.
Assuming the extra water makes it as far downstream as my place.
Which it won't.
Anyway I'm going to apply just for fun, after all its free.