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River Murray and political spin « Previous | |Next »
March 31, 2008

Glenn Milne argues in The Australian that the $1 billion paid to the Victorian Government to bring it to the table is neither new nor extra money---it is simply part of Howard's original $10 billion national water funding with the irrigation upgrades in northern Victoria being one of the projects to be considered under the $10 billion. All the rhetoric about that extra $1 billion was spin by the Brumby Government that was tacitly supported by Rudd + Co.

MurrayRiver.jpg Spooner

So we have this kind of spin rather than a serious attempt to find extra water for a dying Murray River by buying back the over allocated water licences issued by the basin states beholden to the irrigation industry.There is not much water water in the lower lakes---Alexandrina and Albert---and what is there is too salty for stock to tolerate and is not even suitable to use on olive trees.

The River Murray will remain in crisis until a sustainable regime of water management can be put in place. Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed at CoAG in Adelaide the Commonwealth Minister will have the power to determine the cap. However, the as-yet- unspecified cap on water extraction from the river system for irrigation will not become fully operational for more than a decade. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will not produce a plan until 2011. The state's existing water resource plans will remain in place until they expire . For SA this is 2012, 2014 for NSW and Queensland and 2019 for Victoria. Under the agreement the states maintain control of the water in their territory.

Though the Commonwealth is committed to spending $50 million on buying back irrigated water allocations this is a fraction of what is required to improve the River Murray. Little is being said about increasing this by any Government ministers, even though it has been known since 1997 that too much water was being taken out of the river. That is why a basin cap was put in place, yet Queensland is still refusing to put a cap in place for its rivers.

I am not convinced that Howard's basin plan that Rudd has now put in place is the right one---too much emphasis is placed on subsidizing irrigators. There is not enough emphasis placed on buying back the over-allocated water entitlements and on winding back irrigation in unsuitable areas---those with unsuitable soils, have rising or saline ground water---and practices---flood irrigation for cotton, rice and dairy farms.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:03 AM | | Comments (44)


Victoria continually claims that it's irrigation practices are the most efficient in the nation, yet many Victorian farmers irrigate their dairy pastures by dumping water on them. And they are not willing to change.

Victoria's food bowl irrigation system is still government owned and it is an old crumbling system. Why patch up an old, outdated and inefficient system when there is less water flowing into the system?

That was the argument of Peter Cullen before he died. Mike Young makes a similar argument.

I wonder in our madness if we ever questioned the efficacy of our foreign aid to Indonesia. Do we expect the same performance parameters from Indonesia as we do from our states. What if Indonesia wanted to pipe water a huge distance to feed X number of villages and towns? Would we willingly support that dream yet say it's too costly to pipe water from the Ord River to the southern states of Australia?

Rumpole QC,
you must be a 1950s man if you are thinking in terms of piping water from the Ord to Victoria to sustain dairy farming in that state.

Wayne Myer, a professor of irrigation and natural resource science at the University of Adelaide, says that Australia is going to spend $1 billion on repairing the irrigation infrastructure in Victoria's food bowl in return for 100 gigalitres of water for the river. That's a pretty expensive way of doing things.

It is not much water when irrigators continue to have access to about 2000 gigalitres, and they continue to build farm dams and extract ground water.

About 1500 gigalitres is required to restore the Murray Darling river system to ecological health. About 133 gigalites has been returned to the river since 2003, when the basin states committed to returning 500 gigalitres to the river under the Living Murray scheme.

Most of the commentary on the environmental flows is pure spin by the states defending their irrigation industries who depend on cheap water.

Nan, surely Victoria is peopled by more than dairy farmers. Don't paltripolitans wash, drink, prepare food and pursue other water-using activities? Fancy calling me locked in the 50's.....Gary says I'm too modern by calling for an end to state governments.

You have a limited horizon Nan.

Rumpole QC,
Stop playing games. You know--or should know as a QC-- that most of the water from Victoria's rivers is taken by inefficient irrigated agriculture in the food bowl region.

Your Ord pipe scheme is protectionism on a grand scale that has no place in a 21st century Australia with an open market economy.

Why should dairy farmers be treated any differently to Mitsubishi? Where is the economic sense in SA continuing to subsidize those Victorian dairy farmers trying to farm in saline areas that have been caused by their bad farm practices?

Yes. A lot of these dairy farms should be taken out, not propped up by the commonwealth in the name of agrarian socialism.

That 1950s system subsidizes agriculture. It requires state and commonwealth governments to dig deep to provide cheap water, and it treats environmental damage as secondary. It sees water for the river as wasted water.

It has had its use by date. The irrigation infrastructure in Victoria should be privatised. If they can sell their power stations they can sell their irrigation networks.

Peter have you seen any of the infrastructure, you don't need an engineering degree to observe it is 17 century stuff.
SA piped its water ten years ago.
The system I see leaks like a sieve, with old open concrete channels from which more water evaporates than reaches its destination. This in spite of a greater GDP than SA. While "elect me" politics reigned in Vic, SA privatized and piped its water. Now we have a dry and salt Coorong and river resembling a drain!
All this while Vics built image impressive Arts and stadium complex.
Now theyre building a pipeline to serve Mebourne!
Hardly conservative politics aye.

A few weeks back we heard that Labor was planning to rip off carers, which turned out to be untrue. It was a rumour started by Milne.

This week Milne says that the extra billion for Victoria was actually part of Howard's original 10, and isn't extra at all. Labor are saying they never said it was extra, that the media reporting it as such was wrong.

there was a deal between Rudd and Brumby.The $1b handed straight to Victoria to fund its Food Bowl Modernisation project did come from the $10billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The deal was that there would be no independent assessment of these projects. and no co-contributions from irrigators. So Rudd was, in effect, giving Brumby a reward for decades of Victorian governments and irrigators failing to invest in their own infrastructure.

And the project also includes the allocation of 75 gigalitres a year to Melbourne via the Sugarloaf pipeline.That breaks the resistance of irrigation farmers to the use of rural water to meet urban demand.

The $1 billion was a bribe to overcome political resistance to reform. It was a bribe because the additional flows generated by the food bowl project will cost taxpayers about $5000 a megalitre compared with long term market price of about $1000 a megalitre.

the key issue for those of us who live at the bottom of the river is more water for the river and it is being resisted by irrigators who fear they will lumbered with the full coast of irrigation infrastructure.

Buyback of over-allocated water licences are more effective than infrastructure upgrades to an irrigation system that will become redundant with less inflow into the river. Buybacks are also cheaper that irrigation upgrades. However. Buyback is deeply resisted by irrigators, especially in Victoria.

Whilst Rudd's CoAG agreement would facilitate major rural water reform it does not deliver it---as Gary points out.

It seems that we are agreed that Rudd has failed to live up to the expectations of many regarding the Murray.

Those that engaged in the recent FTTN discussion here would no doubt have googled around and informed themselves of the situation.

So I am scoring 2 strikes to Rudd now.

We had similar resistance from irrigators up here before it rained. Back then Beattie's brilliant plan for another dam echoed Victoria's brilliant upgrade plan. The problems down your end are compounded by all the stupid decisions made further upstream, none of which appear to have changed any.

Frank gives a good reason for the bad decisions made upstream.

The [Victorian] system I see leaks like a sieve, with old open concrete channels from which more water evaporates than reaches its destination.

Trouble is the Victorian irrigators don't have to repair and upgrade this system. They require public funds, then demand that half of the water saved is returned to them at very low cost. It is about time they started to stand on their own two feet.

I think you are being unfair to the irrigators, but more importantly the communities they live in, when you deign that buy backs are better than upgrading infrastructure.
Irrigators, if justly compensated, will be fine. The problem is the communities that they belong too and provide jobs for, can only fall into decline. As if the drought wasn't doing that already.
It is for this reason that spending on actual water savings is required, to allow irrigation depedent communities to remain viable. While many may complain about the cost of such infrastructure spending, they are not looking into the future when water will be worth much more than it is today. Consider the doubling of commodity prices of wheat and rice within the last year.

My thoughts on the Coorong haven't changed- remove the barrages if we wish to return closer to natural conditions.

Gary, I think you miss the point that irrigators were granted(rightly or wrongly) access to water, through whatever infrastructure was built at the time. Why should the irrigator wear the full cost of upgrades only to the benefit of other parties with the water saved?

Without an incentive to return saved water to the river, an irrigator would surely keep his/her savings on farm.

Rojo makes some good points.
Future costs of both the cost of food and the upgrade.
The cost to the communities now.
Australia is in a position to put itself as a future world safe food producer. Maybe we should be using the money from this resource boom to that use.

you say that you think Gary is being:

unfair to the irrigators, but more importantly the communities they live in, when you deign that buy backs are better than upgrading infrastructure.

You cannot say 'irrigsators'. Some irrigators have privatised infrastructure --eg., in SA---and they would repair it themselves to provide support to their irrigator communities in the Barossa. It's the Victorians who have their hand out for lots of cash from the public purse.

You need to distinquish between irirgators since returning the lower Lakes to natural conditions would destroy the irrigators' communities in this area--eg., Langhorne Creek.

So you are really arguing for subsidies to protect the conditions of Victorian irrigators not irrigators in general. Moreover, you would be willing to sacrifice the downstream irrigators to achieve this protection for the Victorian dairy farmers who waste water on a low value product.

I read your post on Jennifer Marohasy's blog.You give some history to the effect about the Goolwa barrages---construction completed in 1940, across each of the five channels connecting the lakes with the Coorong. These barrages restrict tidal flow into the lakes and stop freshwater flowing out of the Murray River’s mouth.

Correct. The argument is not about the history of a working river. You then say that this is your conclusion:

So effectively we might spend billions taking water from upstream irrigators and in the process displace jobs/communities and achieve nothing for the Coorong. I do realise there are other "iconic" sites on the Murray that will benefit from more water, but they benefit already from the environmental nature of water deliveries prior to extraction, and don't require 1000GL of fresh water evaporation from the lakes in low availability scenarios.

I read this post as a defense of upstream irrigators in Victoria---since we are talking about the River Murray--and an argument against increased environmental flows for the river.

nan, a defence of irrigation in general-yes.
An argument against increased environmental flows- no. Just make them count.

In this piece about the Coorong I'm trying to say that even with say an extra 1000GL of environmental flows, the Coorong will still remain a hypersaline environment, as it has long been. Effectively we will(in a period of drought) be flushing stored fresh water over the barrages to keep the mouth open. Something nature had in hand with tidal forces pre the barrages.

Right now we only have 1000GL held in Lakes Hume and Dartmouth on the Murray in total.

peter, down stream irrigators will be better off either way with regard to buying entitlement outright or making water available through efficiency gains. Whats your point?

My point is water for the river should be sourced where possible through savings and efficiency. Enabling production to remain stable as well as providing water for the environment.

This will undoubtably cost more per megalitre returned to the river, but that will be repaid over time through production wealth creation and ultimately taxes.

If you read my Coorong post carefully I stipulate that irrigators on the lakes will need to be supplied from the wellington weir, I wouldn't forsake them for an instant.

so the irrigators come first not the river?

Why do you make environmental flows count and not upgrades to Victorian infrastructure or changed irrigation practices? Why do you reduce environemtnal flows but not over allocated water licences?

The Coorong's ecology is a mixture of fresh and salty water as it is an esturine system.

Gary, I have never said the irrigators come first over the river, merely that water should be sourced through water savings rather than buybacks, where possible. And to be sure the water bought by whatever means will actually be effective. Whats wrong with that?
It will cost more $/megalitre in the short term to save water rather than buy it, no doubt a problem for those who care only for money in the here and now.
Where did I say that environmental spending needed more scrutiny than say Victorian upgrades? They go hand in hand.

My view is that 1000GL or whatever amount deemed necessary will be put aside for the Coorong. If that doesn't "fix" the problem, what then? 1000 more?

The Coorong has, according to the Adelaide Uni study, not been influenced by the Murray's fresh water. Effectively we are going to use fresh water only to keep the mouth open, something nature can do much better with tidal action.

A big influence on the Coorong has been altered inflows from the east. I believe some rivers were routed to the sea, and the SA govt were looking to return that water.

you ask what is my point and say:

My point is water for the river should be sourced where possible through savings and efficiency. Enabling production to remain stable as well as providing water for the environment.

that's the whole point---'production to remain stable'. I cannot remain stable with reduced inflows and over allocated water entitlements. So you are going to take the water from elsewhere to ensure that production remains stable.

What you resist acknowledging is that some farms will have to go in a world of climate change, especially the ones in high saline areas and with little river flow.; and the nature of production will have to change.

you write:

I do realise there are other "iconic" sites on the Murray that will benefit from more water, but they benefit already from the environmental nature of water deliveries prior to extraction.

That's very misleading. The Chowilla flood plain in SA is listed as one of six 'icon' sites in the Living Murray Initiative along with sites including the Barmah-Millewa and Gunbower-Perricoota forests in Victoria and NSW.

Most of the river gums in Chowilla are dying from lack of water; water that has been extracted upstream of Chowilla in NSW and Victoria. This has been going on for a a decade so you cannot say the cause is 'drought'.

you say that you:

have never said the irrigators come first over the river, merely that water should be sourced through water savings rather than buybacks, where possible.

Most of the $10 billion dollars of the Howard Rudd plan goes to the irrigators for upgrades and a minority for buybacks of overallocated water entitlements. The very plan puts irrigators first.

They are being protected with massive subsidies; often with very little accountablity.

"The very plan puts irrigators first."

I'm not so sure it's really about the irrigators, in my first post to your site I said the irrigators will be fine. I don't doubt that, assuming fair compensation is paid. What I don't see is a windfall gain to irrigators, the water plan spending on savings is to maintain production after water cuts, and compensation is only in return for assets given up. As an irrigator I don't expect to gain, but I certainly don't want to be worse off.

The real issue is when we choose only to look at the economics of returning water to the river. Yes it will be cheaper to just buy the water, the consequence of which is lower production and less money to sustain rural communities. Less turnover means less staff, less money spent on inputs and our suppliers shed staff. Less people in town and we lose an accountant, a doctor, a few teachers- people that make rural living great.

In conclusion irrigators are not protected by "massive subsidies" - it's the rural communities that are intended to be protected.

nan, I've had the opportunity to visit chowilla and the SA govt is doing some great work there. They have actually been pumping water to the more significant areas (billabongs/wetlands), using a fraction of the water that would otherwise evaporate inundating areas of lesser value(salt pans).
Chowilla is a problem in that it could do with a good flood, yet following that flood large amounts of salt will be drawn into the Murray. Not a win-win situation.

I was under the impression that the 500GL environmental flow to the Barmah forest occured at the beginning of this current drought- it would have had no natural opportunity since then.

Have they ended logging in the Gunbower-Perricoota?

Peter, mate, I haven't had more than 10% (averaged) allocation in the last 5 years. I haven't got your water. Rice growers have only grown about 2% of a normal crop- they haven't got your water either.

For the first time(I'm including last year) in something like a hundred years high security users have not had full allocation. Consecutive years were previously unthinkable.

If it is climate change, and I mean no disrespect, realistically do you beleive it will be the farms at system end that will survive? Farms on some of the saltiest land using the saltiest water?
I hope for all our sakes that there is a return to normal inflows. Or above.
Without such no amount of govt intervention will help.

The difference between reading stuff and actually living it.

the big floods in Queensland never really got to the Darling-Murray junction. They were trapped by Queensland cotton farmers whilst the Queensland Government loked the other way.

You write:

If it is climate change, and I mean no disrespect, realistically do you beleive it will be the farms at system end that will survive? Farms on some of the saltiest land using the saltiest water? I hope for all our sakes that there is a return to normal inflows. Or above.Without such no amount of govt intervention will help.

The market reforms under the National Water Initiative will price water and allow water trading and this will have the effect of those with the crops of the highest value buying water from those with products of lowest value.

That means the Victorian dairy farmers sell it to the wineries in South Australia. That is why I keep on pointing the finger at the dairy farmers. If the irrigators continue to resist buyback, then the market will drive them out under climate change conditions.

The science indicates that there will be no return to normal flows in the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin. Hope will not bring rain.

The Federal, Victorian, New South Wales and South Australian Governments declared red gum forests national “icon sites” in 2003 as part of the Living Murray Initiative.

This included the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest, which is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, JAMBA (Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement) and CAMBA (China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement). It is an important breeding ground for a number of birds, including Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Night Heron, Royal Spoonbill, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret and Australian White Ibis.

In spite of this the state governments allow clearfelling of red gums in the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest 15 metres from the Murray, and this timber is sold for firewood or or garden chips in Sydney and Melbourne. It's a bloody disgrace.

From what I can make there are Victorian proposals to make parts of the forest near Gunbower into a national park;but to continue to allow forestry to exist in the other parts near Koondrook.

The Koondrook-Perricoota Forests on the NSW side of the Murray are state forests --part of the NSW Central Murray State Forests--- which exist to be logged. I know that the National Parks Association has launched legal action against NSW Forestry Commission's plans for continued logging in the region.

The Howard Government's Basin formula was to spend $6 billion on infrastructure upgrades and $3 billion on buybacks.Under the plan water savings achieved through infrastrucuture upgrades would be split between irrigators and environment.

Economically speaking that is a subsidy to irrigators through government payment for infrastructure, as in effect, it provides them with free water and so encourages unviable agriculture.

the cold hard economic reality is that whether irrigator communities like it or not, there will be around a 20% cut in current water consumption to ensure the Murray-Darling river system survives. That reduction will come from buybacks and a water cap in 2011. That means less irrigators.

There will also be a market process of regions along the Murray basin continuing to sell off their water entitlements---permanently traded---as farm profits decline because the land is not productive enough to keep them going as a business.

I would suggest that the rice growing area of Coleambally is one of these. Deniliquin is probably another along with parts of northern Victoria.

the cap may be introduced in 2011 but the 2011 cap cannot be enforced until 2019 because that is how long it takes for the last of the states’ water management plans - those in Victoria - to expire. These plans are designed to provide certainty for irrigators and mean they can continue to draw water based on decisions made before the cap is put in place.

It's another sign of basin politics being reduced to protecting the interests of irrigators.

yep--that's right. However the pressure on irrgators is going to come from lack of rainfall in the Basin.

In a paper for last week’s economic and social outlook conference hosted by The Australian and the Melbourne Institute, Young estimates that a 10 per cent reduction in rainfall can mean a 67per cent fall in the water available to irrigators, assuming existing environmental commitments are honoured.

The CSIRO’s Tom Hatton, who heads the sustainable yield project commissioned by the Howard government, says that, on the basis of the reports released so far on regions within the basin, global climate models suggest that southern areas can expect a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in rainfall by 2030. With rising temperatures, that translates into a reduction in inflows into the Murray system of possibly 50 per cent.

That projected climate change reality is going to cause big changes amongst irrigators, most of whom continue to think in terms of "drought" not climate change.

Droughts end and rains return to normal. So things will be alright once we get through the tough times. Climate change means permanent reduction in rainfall. Its a ver different scenario.

"big floods in Queensland never really got to the Darling-Murray junction"

Do they ever? Obviously the Emerald water doesn't flow into the Darling, but the Warrego system contributes only a small proportion of it's flows to the Darling, most evaporates on flood plains. While it's true irrigators around Bourke have had good access to water it, is for the first time in 5 years, none in the last 3 at least. Don't forget Menindee lakes.
The real clincher is that historically, even before development, only 25% of darling inflows made it to the Murray junction.

What does the science indicate caused the federation drought?

You're right hope will not bring rain- but I still hope that it does rain.

re infrastructure(for on-farm gains) - no, not a subsidy- the farmer will have less entitlement. Effectively it is a purchase of entitlement. The farmer also has to contribute. Along the lines of govt pays 80% and takes half the water saved. Hard to say if the farmer will be much better off, that infrastructure may not add to farm value $ for $.

In terms of major supply systems I believe govt recoups all water saved using govt money.

Gary, I don't disagree. There will be cuts to water extraction, I have no doubt.I don't have a problem with irrigators selling water to the government if they so choose, as willing sellers.

What I support is the premise that water should be obtained as far as possible through savings from things like sealing leaky channels, and minimising evaporation losses like those at Menindee Lakes.
As well as on-farm savings from implementing say drip systems on sandy soils.
This way we can return water to the rivers with less impact on communities. If we take it in a purely dollars in our pockets sense it will be cheaper to simply purchase water outright, but I can't see this as the best outcome for Australia.
I just don't see it as a subsidy to irrigators.

With a normal basin irrigation income of close to $5 billion per annum I'd say the govts planned $10 billion over 10 years is close to self sustaining, without impacting on general taxpayers anyway.

Agreed the Darling is not the central source of river flow into the Murray.

However, your comment that:

The real clincher is that historically, even before development, only 25% of darling inflows made it to the Murray junction

discloses a lot. 25% is a hell of a lot more than 0%.The Darling, in effect, is a dead river after development.

Too much water was taken out and the NSW allowed the cap on what was taken out to be exceeded regularly.The consequence is a river that died because all the priority was on water development at the expense of ecological health.Any reform must start there and be seen as steps in reducing over-allocated water entitlements.

The concern about ecological health and environmental flows was dismissed as greenie lefty rhetoric inspired by environmentalism as a religion. The current state of the Darling shows that conservative rhetoric to be arrant nonsense.

Climate change moves us on from this kind of debate. Areas such as Deniliquin, Kerang, Coleambally and Moulamein are in desperate times. Deniliquin's rice mill is closed, grain harvests are way down and water licenses are being traded out of these regions to producers with more profitable crops elsewhere.

the opinion of water scientists such as Mike Young and the late Peter Cullen, is that the existing management system in irrigated agriculture was built for a wet period and not the potentially climate-changed dry zone it is in the process of becoming. The states, after years of encouraging irrigation farming and priortizing for fruit and grape vine growers, are struggling to make the required shift, with less rain.

The signs are dieback, farms being sold, people working off farm to keep food on the table, water being traded out of less profitable regions (marginal lands) etc.

I concur with your view that there is a closing down of irrigation industries. In Merbein, just outside Mildura, up to 30per cent of the fruit and grape growers have stopped farming. The need to downsize the Murray irrigation community is undeniable but the economic reality on the ground is painful. What you see are dead fruit trees and vine pulls.

In the Mildura area some estimate as many as 20 per cent of producers have stopped farming. A lot of water has been sold out of the district, leaving farms worthless.

Even Tim Fischer, the ex leaders of the Nationals, has come out and said that there was overallocation in some rivers and that there is need for swift action to cut back on unsustainable irrigation licences. That view was, and is, taboo in the Nationals. They resisted buyback and compulsory acquisition because it would lead to the demise of some rural communities that rely on irrigated agriculture to survive.

That's the view defended by rojo in this thread.

pete, the darling put 150GL into the Murray during the flooding you refered to, according to the nsw Govt, and approx 4-500GL has been held in Menindee lakes, which would otherwise have added to the Murray.

The Darling certainly has had an unfortunate run these last 5 years, but I can assure you it is because of lack of flow, not development. Menindee lakes were full in Jan 2002, 2000GL worth, but there have been limited flows in any of the northern irrigation valleys since then. The darling would have been dry regardless of development.

Little flow into the Darling=little flow out. 25% of nothing is nothing.

nan, are you certain we're heading into dryer conditions? the csiro studies I've read, for my valley anyway, suggest little change even with projected warming. Their prediction of 20% wetter to 30% indicates a great deal of uncertainty. Best guess 3% lower. We've just endured the coolest summer in 25 years and above average rainfall to boot. No I don't share the gloom and pessimistic outlook favoured by some.

I read the AFR article too nan, and one has to wonder why he singles out northern valleys, when they use much less of their river flows than those of the murray, percentage wise. Tim didn't suggest he supported compulsory buybacks in the article, or for that matter buybacks in general- only seeking swift action in 'hopelessly overcommited' areas. Which ones Tim? What is the proper way to "manage the lost livelihoods and collapse of some rural communities" AFR 7/4/08

I am referring to the southern Murray-Darling Basin not the northern part in NSW and Queensland. The science says it will be hotter, drier have less rainfall, and less runoff into the river. This region certainly hasn't endured the coolest summer in 25 years and above average rainfall to boot in this region. Are you implying otherwise?

My comments are not based solely on the AFR article. I heard Blackmore speak in Goolwa when he ran the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. In those days---4 years ago-- the talk was more open about marginal production, saline areas, bad farming practices, and restoring environmental flows. They spoke the truth in those days before the Nationals closed things down.

The last 4 years have seen the backlash from the irrigation industry (Murray Irrigation the IPA etc) which wants more water not less, basically denies the overallocation problem and talks in terms of drought (the rains will return) not climate change (there will be less rain). The conservative politics is all about protecting irrigators and irrigation communities through agrarian socialism these days. My hope is that the water trading will do the job of cleaning out the inefficient users of water as the water shifts to the high value users.

The Chowilla scheme that you refer is a joke. Chowilla is a floodplain and there hasn't been a flood because of the overallocation of water to irrigators --not the recent drought.

okay I stand corrected on the Darling putting 150GL into the Murray during the recent flooding in Queensland. I accept that approx 4-500GL has been held in Menindee lakes. Stored for whom though?

I dispute your comments about development though. Consider this extract from the MDBC's STATE OF THE DARLING Interim Hydrology Report.

Large-scale water infrastructure development commenced in the 1960s, and there are now major dams in the headwaters of all major NSW tributaries, and the Border Rivers. However, these dams only control about 30% of the Basins flows, considerably less than is controlled by dams in the Murray. Their regulation of flows is restricted to the eastern tributaries, a short portion of the Balonne River, and the last 200 kilometres of the Darling below Menindee Lakes.

The report then points out the effects of recent development:
More recently, there has been major private investment in large storages on irrigation farms. The total volume of these storages now rivals that of the headwaters dams, and they capture much of the water that enters the Basin’s rivers downstream of the dams. This feature of water infrastructure in the Darling Basin sets it apart from the Murray. Current estimates indicate that there are also very large volumes of hillside dams that capture large volumes of runoff before it reaches the Basin’s rivers, although there is doubt about the precision of these hillside dam estimates.
The total surface area of these shallow on farm storages is large, and evaporation rates in the Basin are high. The result is that evaporation from them is now a major cause of loss of water from the system.

As for storage on Menindee Lakes --water stored for irrigators along the lower Darling River--- the report says what we all know---that there are also large losses from Menindee Lakes.

The end result is that evaporation from water storages on the Darling is now estimated to be about 2,000,000 Megalitres per annum, which is equal to about 25% of the average flow in the Basin’s rivers.