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water flows in the Murray-Darling Basin « Previous | |Next »
February 20, 2008

As I suspected the flood waters coursing down some of Australia's big inland river systems in the upper Murray Darling Basin have identified old cross-border feud between Queensland and NSW as most of the water is staying in Queensland.

The cotton irrigators in the St George irrigation area in south west Queensland have taken much of the water that's flowed down the rivers from the St George weir since late last year. Queensland Government figures show that little more than 25 per cent of the water finally made it across the border. But landholders in New South Wales claim it's closer to 17 per cent.

The problem is that the flood water belongs to everyone in the Murray Darling Basin and doesn't belong to favoured few cotton irrigators in one state. The water needs to be managed for the future of the Basin. How can that be done with much reduced water flows in the Basin, due to global warming?

We have the $10 billion plan to save the important Murray-Darling system in place. So what now? Peter Cullen says:

We've got the framework for a plan that will take us forward but there are still some critical decisions. We've got to work out how much water can we take from the rivers and still have a healthy river. Governments have been committing to do that since the 1984 reforms but haven't really done it yet. Then we've got to work out how we share that water between the competing users. All the farmers would like to have access to it, cities are now wanting to delve into it. So whilst we have the framework in the new bill and a commitment to develop a Murray-Darling Basin plan, we've got a fair bit of detail still to work through.

However, priority of the Howard $10 billion plan---- most of the money was to go to cutting back water wastage with more infrastructure--- needs to be changed. The bullet needs to be bitten:
We've got a situation where the inflow into the Murray are perhaps dropped about 40 per cent over the last decade and that really means, I think we've got to reduce the entitlements and I don't think we've been getting very far over the last decade by incremental improvement in the system and I think it's now time to accept the reality that we are in a dryer climate in the Murray-Darling basin and reduce the entitlements appropriately probably by 40, 50 per cent and compensate people who we are taking licences away from. So I would give that a priority for the money.

Reducing the water allocations by up to 50 per cent, that would dramatically change the farming landscape in the basin.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:04 AM | | Comments (3)


I was really disturbed by the attitudes in Queensland. They are pretty much thinking for themselves and do not consider themselves to be part of the Basin. The local Mayor, one Robert Buchan says:

It seems to be a pick on the cotton and a pick on people who have got the water and a pick on the people who have got enough initiative and have a got at developing inland Australia.

The cotton farmers in Queensland are all about making deserts bloom. They are supported by both local and state government. So much for Queensland being a part of a federated nation.

This is Craig Wallace, the Queensland Natural Resources Minister, speaking on the 7.30 programme:

We've got to stop making Cubbie a panacea of all the evils on the Murray-Darling. They are a small user on the Murray Darling and they take their water in terms of the water sharing plans.

There is no conception at all of the need to reduce the entitlements under those water sharing plans.

Thank you for bringing to light what we in the Snowy River and Upper Murrumbidgee catchment area have suspected - that the big irrigator groups namely cotton - have pinched the water that should rightfully flow into the Murray. That means that farmers continue to cry water pour and the NSW Government takes water out of the Snowy Storages continuing to rob the Snowy River of legislated environmental flows. Peter Cullen is right that there is still no reasonable action on environmental flows however, the benchmark internationally is around 75% minimum and for Australia post the Webster Report (EIS prior to Snowy corporatisation) around 28%. The NSW Ministers responsible for managing the Snowy Scheme and 'water sales' have every excuse under the sun to pump the major storages below the well tried 'drought storage' levels and sell the water off out west. No doubt, the NSW Government makes a motsa in the interim for various charges for issuing / selling water licences, water trading and sales of 'renewable' or 'green' Hydro power which indeed, relies on traditional coal fired power to pump water up to the turbines. Mike Kelly the incoming Federal Member for Eden-Monaro promised to establish a Snowy Community Advisory Committee and has yet to do so. The idea was for intra and inter-catchment conversations about our shared perceived and real water needs. Meanwhile, Governments have taken it upon themselves to privatise Australia's once public water resources and ostensibly, flog the water off to the non-Australian owned major agricultural concerns, rice and cotton amongst them, that arguably, do not suit this continent. I support the call for a full Commission of Inqiry into the management of our rivers.

Acacia Rose
Alpine Riverkeeper