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River Murray: greenwashing « Previous | |Next »
August 7, 2008

The ecological state of the River Murray is now pretty dire.The condition is most noticeable in the lower lakes are near the Murray's mouth in SA, where I have been photographing this last week.

ValdmannRiverMurray.jpg Valdmann

Unbelievably, the Rann Government in SA is spinning the ecological disaster in the Lower Lakes of the Murray River in the form of water dreaming. It is painting a rosy future even as it plans to built a weir at Wellington to protect Adelaide's water supply. This is one issue where the state government's spin is at odds with reality. As a response to the community protests on the issue, its spin highlights its failure on water issues and its strong greenwashing. Lake Alexandrina is now 35cm below sea level, and acidification would be triggered at negative 1m, which is estimated in June 2009.

In contrast, Senator Wong, the federal Water Minister, has effectively written off the lakes, saying there was not enough water in the River Murray system to fill them:

There is not enough water in the system to bring down the sorts of quantities of water you'd need to fill the Lower Lakes.Even if we did make a decision to not give any allocations (upstream), there is insufficient water currently in storage – less the critical human needs issue – for us to viably manage the Lower Lakes with the amount of water that we have. That is extremely unfortunate and extremely difficult for the community down there.

What water there is left in NSW and Victoria--we don't know how much---has been reserved for critical human needs (drinking water) along the River Murray. A weir is quietly being built at Wellington to preserve the drinking water by preventing the sea water plume that has got beneath the Goolwa barrages from going upstream. A recent estimate by CSIRO scientist Bill Young was that up to 50% of water released from Menindee Lakes would reach the lower Murray. So how much water is reserved in NSW?

Maywald has been denying that work on the weir is underway when she has been addressing local communities in the Lower Lakes this week. She is still talking in terms of a freshwater solution and the possibility of adequate rain falling next winter. She is saying nothing about the annual 4% trading cap has already been reached on the Campaspe River in central Victoria, which flows into the Murray, and that a major water acquisition has been rejected because it will breach the cap – barely a month into the financial year.

Odd that the Rann Government is putting no public pressure on NSW or Victoria, nor even calling for a public audit of water reserves in the NSW. Their silence and spin means that they have been bought off at CoAG.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:32 AM | | Comments (6)


I thought the story was that nobody knew how much water was in storage, or does that only apply to the water that could fall under the buyback scheme nobody seems particularly interested in?

It will be interesting to see how much worse this has to get before action is taken. Horrible, but interesting.

Two of the four biggest lakes in the huge Menindee Lakes water storage system in NSW are full to the brim. Lake Pamamaroo and Lake Wetherell held 531 gigalitres, significantly more than the 10 megalitres a year that the nearby community of Broken Hill needs for human use.

That undercuts the claim that upstream freshwater supplies are insufficient to flush them out, and that stored water supplies in the river system must be safeguarded for human consumption in NSW.

It's triage that is being used here by Penny Wong. She is making public comments without providing us with information about what water has been stored.

there is some odd stuff going on about water in the Murray Darling Basin from NSW. Crikey reports that:

There are currently 550 GL of water in the Menindee Lakes – below the level (640GL) at which control of the lakes is taken over by the Murray Darling Basin Commission from the NSW Government. There are persistent allegations from across the political spectrum that the NSW Government is managing the lake’s inflows and outflows to keep it below the MDBC threshold. There is also deep scepticism that the water is "fully committed to human needs" as maintained by NSW Water Minister Nathan Rees. Water from Menindee would provide a substantial contribution to saving the Coorong, and could be replenished from water further upstream. There are at least 1700 GL of water held in storages in northern NSW from heavy rain last year and earlier this year.

Like Victoria, NSW is storing the water for its irrigators. The MDBC looks on from the sidelines whilst the Federal Government refuses to come clean.

So they have effectively sacrificed the lower lakes for irrigator interests. That is what co-operative federalism means.

I trust none of the politicians on this issue. They are all spinning like crazy, whilst continuing their gross mismanagement of the basin to protect their state irrigators. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission was silenced long ago by the irrigator lobby and the Nationals.

On water storage in the Basin the Commission says that:

Under current dry inflow contingency planning arrangements, the water in public storages is already committed to meeting critical human needs, individual carry‐over, and announced allocations.The ability to extract water from private storages is limited and would incur significant transmission losses between the Northern Basin and the Murray System.

My interpretation of "individual carry‐over, and announced allocations" is that it is water watermarked for irrigators. They come before the ecology of the basin---thats the reality of the politics of water in the Basin.

When I left the comment I was thinking about the water stored in northern NSW after the heavy rains we had up here earlier in the year. There's been enough rain in these parts since then that it must still be there. The Crikey article confirms that.

Say for argument's sake some of that water was released, what's to stop others further downstream from nabbing it before it gets to SA?

I also wonder what's to stop some journalist who doesn't like Penny Wong from spending a day or two in a helicopter recording the water that is there but isn't being talked about. If Google can post pictures of our houses on the net, surely some current affairs show could air footage of water hoggery.

North western NSW is a factor in this as there is water hoarding on private properties.

The Age reports that the ACF's argument is that some the water of some major water-hoarding properties in the western parts of NSW and Queensland whose water could be purchased or leased by the Government in a bid to save the Coorong and lower lakes.

Three of the six the properties mention by the ACF - Darling Farms, Toorale Station and Balandool Station - are on the market.

There is the solution-- buying properties to reduce the over allocation of water licences. It is what Wong is failing to do.