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gross mismanagement of water « Previous | |Next »
August 14, 2008

It looks as if the calls for restoration of environmental flows to the River Murray through buying up properties along the Barwon-Darling River and releasing water stored in the Medindie Lakes will go unheeded, despite the growing political pressure about the years of inaction by state governments, who have been captured by irrigator interests in the Basin.

If it is true that 80% of the water released upstream would be lost to evaporation because conditions are so dry, then the finger can be pointed at state and federal governments for not buying back water licences to reduce the overallocation of water to irrigators. There has been a marked failure since the 1990s to restore environmental flows in the Murray-Darling river system.

Inaction has been the norm. Well, we do have a new new, independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Whoopie!. The stalling tactics adopted by irrigator interests,and they managed to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission bowed to these stalling tactics, as well as senior bureaucrats in state and federal governments.

As John Quiggin points out in todays Australian Financial Review:

The restoration of some environmental flows would not have prevented low flows in the current drought. But it would avoid the situation where low flows are the norm, and an extended drought is sufficient to push the whole system over the edge. At this point, calls for the compulsory purchase of irrigator's rights are growing louder. Unless there are are significant inflows of water soon, it is hard to see how the voluntary, market-based approach can be sustained.

Gross mismanagement in the past, and the continual refusal by the 'duck and weave' Rudd Government, to move on buyback has resulted in the current triage operation being applied to iconic sites of the Murray. If Queensland, NSW and Victoria are acting to ensure that South Australia will bear the brunt of the crisis, then the Rudd Government is not even working within the market since it is not even buying properties of irrigators will to sell up.

The Chowilla and Corrong wetlands along with the irrigators in the lower Murray are being sacrificed to protect Queensland, NSW and Victorian irrigators. It is unclear which vital ecosystems will be saved in the River Murray and it is unclear that the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be the power to do anything more than work towards another agreement to develop yet another plan to fix the Murray Darling Basin until 2011. After all, that is all that CoAG does, and so the state and federal bureaucrats are in no hurry to do anything more than develop another plan.

Update
The Rudd Government's latest cabinet meeting took place in Adelaide. After the meeting Rudd announced an independent audit of the water storage in the Basin; extended a buyback of water rights to include purchasing entire properties in northern NSW and Queensland and the federal Government would co-fund a doubling of the capacity of a planned desalination plant for South Australia.

They need to do something as Nick Xenophon has refused to rule out using the Murray River as a bargaining chip as the Government seeks to push contentious measures through the Senate. He has said:

Any government that doesn't do anything that can be done, that should be done, to save the Murray, to save irrigators, will stand condemned. South Australia shouldn't bear the brunt of environmental policy failures upstream. We shouldn't wear the brunt of failed policies, of failing to do things that should have been done many years ago. Water policy in this country has been an abject failure ... and now South Australia is seeing the sharp end of that. It's not just in South Australia's interest, it's in the national interest not to let an ecosystem die, not to allow one of the most water-efficient food bowls in the country, the Riverland, to wither and perish because we haven't got our act together.

So Rudd bowed to political pressure in South Australia and made some modest concessions. An audit only tells us how much water is there; it does not tell us what water is available to save the Corrong wetlands and lower lakes. Secondly, though buying farms and not just licences is a move in the right direction none will be bought in Victoria and nothing is being said or done about the illegal irrigation on the Paroo River in Queensland.


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:02 AM | | Comments (13)
Comments

Comments

Gary
On ABC Radio this morrningr Rudd talked up the Government's existing $3.1 billion water buy-back scheme, but did not appear receptive to fast-tracking the buy-back, or compulsorily buying water rights.

it's a joke. The buy-back is presently focusing on buying water rights, but with low or zero allocations, and so many purchases are making no difference. It's surreal.


Nan,
Rudd also said that:

the core reason for the pressure on the system being, we are in the middle of an appallingly low level of rainfall ... and I can't make it rain

What he also should have said whilst in SA is that a highly stressed Murray-Darling system was also due to the gross over-allocation of water entitlements in the northern part of the Murray-Darling Basin. It is the over-allocation that is the cause for for the long-term problems the system was experiencing.

The politicians continue to avoid speaking truthfully on water. They just hide behind the drought to disguise that they are protecting upstream irrigators. Buying back licences with low security water is another mechanism to ensure that upstream irrigators keep the water for themselves. Water development has been the politics of water in the Murray-Darling Basin since the 1890s and the state governments have killed the river as a result.

Why don't they just get out there and buy the water licences. They have known about over allocation since 1994 and they have allowed Queensland to continue development and not work within the cap.

Queensland's Condamine-Balonne River went from one of the least developed rivers in the Murray-Darling to equal the most developed. Queensland irrigators are taking water from the Paroo despite the moratorium.

NSW miss handling of Darling river water has been known of
since before 1983. While that year of plenty was widely discussed in towns on the Darling also discussed was the subject of over allocation and sale of licenses by the NSW govt. These unusable licenses
are now being sold on to SA and Vic!
Some said the over allocation extended to 2.1/2 times known river flows!
This river has been poorly managed, not only by NSW govt but now QLD as well.
Victoria is now doing it, taking water from the Murray to Melbourne.
Where is the Basin authority?
I suspect it has been emasculated by state govts thru the treaties the states insisted on, it now, like me has no teeth.
Allow the Coorong and its lakes to again become sea
connected by removing the barrage, spend the money now being used to buy licenses to buy out irrigaters on the
lakes, and build the weir
at the real river mouth. Then examine the allocations to vine growers. Do we need all that cheap wine?
My 2 cents.
fluff4

Time to send in the bulldozers, and not just along the Paroo.

I find it always sad that people with such a command of the English language can post an article that is so considerably floored, where as I with my crummy English can do better.
.
The first issue to address is what are the Constitutional powers for the Commonwealth in regard of WATER issues! Section 100 of the Constitution limits this as to maintaining the navigation of rivers and no more.
.
Water buy back is utter and sheer nonsense and is not at all within the federal system. South Australia, for example, has the inherited right of riparian rights and it could and should have pursued matters in the High Court of Australia long ago to secure its entitlements. That is what the Framers of the Constitution provided for and I have published this on various occasions in my various books in the INSPECTOR-RIKATIĀ® series.
.
Since federation the Commonwealth squandered its legislative powers, for so far it has it, and this is the real problem.
.
This post could not deal with all details and my website and blog deals with it also extensive but save to say that unless we get the legal issues right we will continue to squander any opportunity to have matters appropriately addressed.
.
Band-aid unconstitutional water buy back programs are not going to resolve the issues we are facing.
.
Water conservation and other conservation issues are State matters and not Commonwealth issues, where as maintaining harbours of navigational rivers (such as the Murray) are actually Commonwealth powers. Hence, widening, deepening, etc, of harbours, infrastructure of harbours, etc, of navigational rivers, as the Framers of the Constitution made clear, are strictly Commonwealth legislative powers.
.
When for example (then) PM John Howard was blaming the (then) Premier Peter Beatty for failing in infrastructure of the harbour, he never understood that in fact it was the Commonwealth who failed in its powers to provide appropriate legislation and follow up.
.
Again, this post does not permit me to go into all details but would it not be nice if for a change those who command so much the English language could also express then the real constitutional application of powers rather then to may some ill conceived argument?

GH,
you are right about the constitutional issues and it has always suprised me why SA has not gone to the federal cour to argue unfair use of water by the other states. They would have a good case.

The way around the constitutional issues is CoAG--all governments in the Australian federation agree to do x. Hence the emphasis on CoAG, or the Council of Australian Governments. They have agree to increased environmental flows and to buyback of water licences.

hi all, a couple of points-

1, buying northern water for the Murray is total nonsense, even under natural conditions 75% of darling inflow never reaches the Murray. the purchases in the Northern valleys have been largely, if not exclusivly, for wetland and environmental uses in those valleys. Such purchases would be gross money wasters if indeed the water was destined for the lakes. It's not going to get there.

2, SA is the only state with announced water allocations for this water year, why beat up other states farmers when it won't even use it's own water for the lakes.

Perhaps Adelaide will allow their share to flow onto the lakes too, given the importance.

Rojo,
there are short term and long term issues. Most of the politics in SA is about the short term --protecting the Lakes, the local irrigators who depend on fresh water the Lakes for their dairy farms and Adelaide's drinking water.

The South Australians are right about the long term issue--reducing the over allocation of water licences given the shortage of water in the Basin; and that this is best done by buying out irrigators along the Darling and Murray who want to sell and exit the industry.

The whole irrigation industry was premised on high rainfall and wet seasons being the norm. This has turned out otherwise.

rojo,
what is wrong in buying water from the irrigators to save the Lower Lakes to prevent them from becoming acid sulphate?

Yo seem to be opposed to water trading. Is that because you want to protect some selected upstream irrigator communities?

rojo

It is not true that SA is the only state with announced water allocations for this water year.

n South Australia, irrigation allocations were lifted marginally from 2 to 6per cent of an entitlement -- well short of what would be required to keep Murray River-dependent crops and plantings alive without brought-in water.Victoria blocks water trading.

Across the border in NSW's Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, however, high-security water licence-holders had their allocation increased to 40 per cent of an entitlement.

The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area relies heavily on Burrinjuck Dam, near the town of Yass, which is currently 44 per cent full. This is twice the average for Murray-Darling reservoirs, and gave NSW authorities more leeway with irrigation allocations

nan, I fully agree, the govt should buy from willing sellers, but i find targeting the least efficient source(the darling) contrary to common sense given the govt has a limited budget.

anon, I was refering to the Murray itself, high security water is indeed available in the northern valleys as well as menindee, some have 100%.
I recently saw Tandou putting up water for tender for possible use in the Murray too.

peter, no I don't want to see the lakes turn acid which is why I advocate the opening of the barrages. I also don't wish to see my tax dollars wasted buying water that either doesn't exist on empty licences, or would be almost totally lost releasing it for the lakes from the upper darling. I don't mind if the govt buys water, but do it with common sense, having clear goals and selection processes. I guess I am "protecting" upstream communities- from ill considered political decisions. Without rain the lakes are screwed(as fresh water lakes anyway), no point taking the little that these communities hang on by too.
Of the 600GL in private storages in the darling systems less than 150GL would make it to the lakes, or about 6 weeks evaporation on the lower lakes in summer.
The MDB commission don't think it's viable to bring water from the upper darling with 80% losses expected.
If the real concern is acid soils the quickest solution is to open the barrages and let nature take it's course, like it once did.

rojo,
Some of the Queensland irrgators are doing very well from all the rain. Is that the reason why the Darling has no water? It is being drained by Queensland irrigators with the support of the state government? It is their water, so to speak.