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Murray-Darling Basin woes « Previous | |Next »
June 18, 2008

The rains in the lower Murray-Darling Basin have been modest, irrigators are on a drip feed, the wetlands are dying and the lower Lakes near the Murray's Mouth continue to dry out.

MurrayDarlingdry.jpg Tandberg

Drought and climate change have forced south western Australians to realise we cannot take our water for granted. The basin is an arid one. We have traditionally relied on dams for our water supply. But dam-building in this country has all but ceased. With the decrease in rainfall, flows into dams have declined markedly because we can no longer rely on rainfall to fill our dams.

Asa Wahlquist in a feature article in The Australian draws out one implication of this changed situation:

irrigation needs a radical overhaul. Most of the watering systems were built and allocated during the wet decades of the 1950s to '80s. They were government-driven, subsidised and based on old beliefs - such as greening the desert - rather than on science or sound economic principles. The irrigation infrastructure in some parts of the country is old and not financially sound, wastes far too much water and earns far too little. Such systems do not have the resilience to survive climate change. Because governments set them up, governments - and that means all of us - must become involved in the solution. Some irrigation districts will have to be retired, which is no easy act when the channels' drying up means the end of local communities.

As the country dries out further and we continue to extract more and more water, so we will lose plants, trees and fauna before we realise we had them.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:49 AM | | Comments (9)


The tide is turning isn't it?

Slowly but inevitably the message is spreading that the irrigation system we have is simply not sustainable or economic or desirable in any sense.
Pardon the analogy but the drip drip drip of reality is starting to spread into the media and no longer is it automatically assumed that the irrigators' preferred option is the only possible answer.
Really its only a matter of WHEN and to what extant the inevitable permanent cutting and capping of licences is enforced regardless of the irrigators' lobby's wishes.
However I do fear it will come too late, after irretrievable damage has been done, perhaps we are at that stage already.
The only criticisms I have with Walquist's article are these statements:
[1]Because governments set them up,..." which ignores the vested interest lobby groups that pushed for and benefited from government policies that were responding to such.
[2]Similarly "drying up means the end of local communities".
It doesn't, that is false. The economic significance of irrigators has consistently been overrated. Important definitely but to be placed in a context where service delivery to tourism and recreation, just to name one other major economic activity along the River Murray, is at least as important, probably more so and with a brighter future. Furthermore I see it as essential that a decrease in irrigation activity is tied to proper [deliberately ambiguous word] recompense for lost assets and income [as I have said before, there is no shortage of govt. money], if only to calm the hysteria a little, but also tied to job schemes in the communities to maintain such.
Jobs in social services for example, unskilled at first but with inbuilt training potential, could be usefully offered in local hospitals, schools, local government servicing, revegetation and local infrastructure schemes etc. Defitely not a waste of money.
I'm optimistic about the message spreading but not the time span of the response.

A leaked report from scientists commissioned by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board, which was delivered to ministers a month ago, said that the Murray-Darling is on life support. 'Life support' is meant in the sense that the Murray River, and the lower Murray, is on the brink of ecological collapse unless there is increased freshwater flows by October to the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

At least Penny Wong acknowledges that the core of the problem is the historical over-allocation of water licences.

The NSW Government is making sure the water does not end up in the Menindee Lakes by giving their irrigators along the Barwon-Darling three times their allocation. They are blocking the water going to the lower Lakes and the Coorong.

And Penny Wong does nothing. So much for co-operative federalism.

the lower water in the lower lakes is exposing the acid sulphate soils, which in turn could destroy the lakes.

It's death there: dead turtles, dead reeds whilst the few remaining ecological refugees are rapidly drying to the point beyond recovery.

So what happens if the drought continues until 2013--its a ten year drought? We have yet to talk about climate change. You can kiss the export dairy industry goodbye.

How come industry in the cities only pays $1.10 per kilolitre whilst individuals pay $1.76?

The cartoon sums it up doesn't it?
You can actually walk across the Murray at one point a few kms upstream from me. Knee deep.
I'm a fan of Penny but .....

I go through a range of moods with this issue. Right now I'm in a sort of pessimistic depressed despair.
I'll spark up and get back to anger tomorrow maybe.

BTW, thats a good question Peter.
A better one is why do irrigators [like me when water is available] pay ...wait for it....$0.00 per kilolitre?
That, nix, nought, nothing [just to emphasize the point].

I despair too. Little is being done. All we hear from Wong and Garrett is excuses why nothing is being done.

Gary Gidday.Great site. Do you know where this leaked report can be viewed? Regards Joseph

Hi Joseph,
best bet is the folks at Adelaide Uni. As I no longer work in the Senate these leaked reports do not turn up on my desk in a brown paper bag. I don't have it and I cannot find it on the Murray-Darling Basin Commission website.

You could try Mike Young or David Paton. I suspect that it is the latter who made the research submission. Young is more about the economics of water.

The SA research was part of a broader research programme into acid sulphate soils in the MDB's wetlands. Since it was a leaked report from the scientists commissioned by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board, and delivered to state and federal ministers, it would be buried in the Murray-Darling Basin bureaucracy. The MDBC was captured by the Nationals under the Howard regime.

My guess is that the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board allowed it to drop off the back of a truck. See David Paton. He's deeply concerned about the ecological collapse of the Lower Lakes and Coorong for quite a while, and he gave the interview on the report when Radio National Breakfast broke the story.

fred, I can only assume you are a SA irrigator, we poor wretchs in NSW pay for water we don't even get.

Gary, I've had some discussion with David Paton, and he has some valid concerns. Concerns that may be addressed by opening the barrages and letting nature get back to business. Too much the thinking has focused on non-existant murray flow to fix a problem that nature is more than capable to accomplish re:acid soils, tidal prisms, open mouth...