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Canberra watch « Previous | |Next »
June 20, 2008

CoAG recently agreed to the development of a “Basin Plan, which will include a sustainable cap on surface and groundwater diversions across the Basin.” CoAG’s intention is to try to fix Murray Darling Basin problems by putting a sustainable management regime in place.

It is probably too late given the Sustainable Rivers Audit released by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

MurrayRiverenoaction.jpg Moir

The best that can be done is put a sustainable system in place and cross one's fingers so that when the rains come in the net decade or so, the river and its ecology will receive their fair share before the irrigators try and take the lot for themselves.

Such a sustainable system will need to be one that is able to not only cope with extreme climatic variation, and long dry periods but shift to a drier climate as well. Is CoAG up to the task?

Thee Sustainable Rivers Audit showed that of the Murray-Darling's 23 rivers, only the Paroo, flowing from Queensland into northern NSW, was rated as having a good level of ecological health. Two more rivers, also in Queensland, were rated moderate, seven as poor and 13 as very poor. You cannot blame that on the drought. Presumably irrigators now realize that poor river system health means poor community well being. Their community well being means restoring ecological health rather than letting it die. Now is a good time for SA to cuts its dependence on River Murray water and invest in more waste water recycling and desalination.

Some will argue that ‘water reform’ within the Murray Darling Basin has been on the national agenda since federation and that much progress has been made. They would cite the salinity and drainage strategy of 1988, imposition of a national cap on extractions in 1995, an inquiry into the restoration of flows to the Snowy in 1998 and in June 2004 the Howard government announced a new ‘National Water Initiative’ and then in January 2007 a ‘National Plan for Water Security’.Lots of plans but little water restored to the river to ensure its health.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has suggested the governments look at the feasibility of the following:

â– Reducing allocations to irrigators in the Barwon-Darling Rivers (upstream of the Coorong) who now have 300% of their entitlements.

â– Releasing some of the 1200 billion litres (three times Melbourne's annual water

use) that is stored in private dams in northern NSW.

â– Releasing water from the Menindee Lakes storages on the Darling River.

â– Irrigation industries lending water to the environment.

â– Reducing irrigation allocations by a small percentage at the start of the season.

These are options because Victoria refuses to buy back water entitlements from irrigators for the Murray River even though the Federal Government has set aside $1.2 billion over the next four years to buy back water and return it to the river.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:40 PM | | Comments (13)


why isn't pressure placed on NSW and Victoria to buy back their overallocated water entitlements by the Commonwealth?

I looked at this cartoon and wondered what Penny was looking at. I knew there was something funny but couldn't see it. Then I realised that she wasn't looking at Murray.


Nick Xenophon, the new Senator from SA says in the SMH that the plight of the Murray-Darling Basin is a national crisis.

It's not just drought and climate change that's led to the current mess, but also the mismanagement of the whole river system and inaction by successive state and federal governments.South Australia's Riverland is one of the country's most productive and water-efficient irrigation regions. But it's facing catastrophe, with close to zero water allocations expected in the next 12 months, jeopardising $10 billion worth of permanent plantings and thousands of jobs. The cost of providing emergency assistance to lease water now to keep these plantings alive is far less than the Commonwealth would have to cough up in Centrelink payments if thousands of irrigators are forced to walk off their land.

Xenophon mentions the dire ecological condition of the lower lakes and the irrigators. H e says that he meet Richard Smart a Riverland irrigator who has spent the last 15 years building up his almond grove. He's had to borrow more than $1 million in the past 12 months to lease water to keep his trees alive.Like many other irrigators, he's at the end of his tether.
Though Xenophon says that it's in Richard's interest and the national interest to fix the problem now, before it's too late it doesn't say how he plans to do this. Or what the options are.Or where the Rudd government needs to lift its game.

Wong is looking for a miracle as a way to solve the Rudd Government's inaction.

This crowd are not doing very much. The were strong on the big political gestures - Kyoto ratification, a new agenda with the states, killing WorkChoices, saying sorry, bringing the troops home, members and senators visiting two schools - and delivered early on the defining election promises.

But now? What? A vacuum caused by inaction.

Garrett is looking back downstream inbto the past when he was a strong advocate for the Murry River when President of the ACF. He is silent now.

You sound like your Labor fire has been doused somewhat.
Are you saying that Kevin Rudd is not the great white hope?

What does the Rudd Government stand for?

I think that Xenophon stands for saving the Riverland irrigators, not the Coorong wetlands. Ecological collapse is not a word in Xenophon's vocabulary, judging from his interview on Radio National Breakfast this morning.

Rudd is perpetually campaigning. He assumes that the the public is not intelligent enough to handle a detailed policy debate over months.

Nelson, for the record, is no different. He's actually in the entertainment business.

Do you think Rudd will be able to introduce the carbon trading scheme in an election year?

They'll have to do it before. The Weekend Australia was hostile to the Rudd Government.

It said, among other things that chaos reigns at the top, that Kevin Rudd must change his style and his staff, that we have the politics of style over substance, aggression and bullying tactics have become the hallmarks of Kevin Rudd’s office, and that women journos have particular cause for complaint.

They do seem to lack political courage when good policy (emissions trading) requires stamping on the toes of powerful interest groups. The Australian is going to beat them up over it.

If Rudd and Wong-- are waiting for Garnaut on energy who are they waiting for on water for the Murray River?

I heard Martin Ferguson, the Resources Minister, on Radio National Breakfast this morning. He's just back from a Saudi Arabia organized OPEC meeting. Ferguson's solution to peak oil is to provide lots of incentives to further oil exploration so we can continue with business-as-usual. He doesn't appear to understand peak oil or climate change. Or doesn't want to.

I see that OPEC is not going to increase production to meet burgeoning demand. They oppose increased production, saying that "the price is disconnected from fundamentals" of supply and demand.They reckon the market is in equilibrium. The price is disconnected from fundamentals. It is not a problem of supply. It is speculation.

Ferguson is of the view that demand is outstripping supply so we drill for more oil rather than look for alternative supplies of energy. How long before he is saying that relief for drivers lies in off-shore drilling and the construction of nuclear power plants?

I don't think the ACF is presenting the Barwon-Darling irrigators fairly. Their allocations were cut by 67%, so in essence the "300%" is only what they had before. my understanding is the allocation is now cumulative, so when they miss out completely as they have over the past 5 or so years there is a chance of catch up. In a series of good years however the extraction will be limited to a third of what they were used to .

I'm not sure about the 1200GL figure in private dams, but even so that will barely fill the lakes back to sealevel. Let alone the fact that 66% or perhaps more would be lost getting it there.

I think you are totally correct that Adelaide needs to recycle as a start. Flushing water out to sea is a crime in a water constrained environment.