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Murray-Darling Basin: more bad news « Previous | |Next »
November 24, 2008

A report by CSIRO on ground and surface water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin warns that climate change will threaten already strained resources in the Basin. It says:

The south of the MDB was in severe drought from 1997 to 2006 and the catchment runoff in the southernmost parts of the MDB was the lowest on record. This event would occur once in more than 300 years without climate change. Such conditions will become increasingly common. The drought conditions in the south of the MDB have worsened in 2007 and 2008.

Though the impacts of climate change by 2030 are uncertain the report says that surface water availability across the entire MDB is more likely to decline than to increase and that a decline in the south of the MDB is more likely than in the north. The six most accurate climate change models predict a drier future for the southern part of the basin than the full range of models:
Under the median 2030 climate, diversions in driest years would fall by more than 10 percent in most New South Wales regions, around 20 percent in the Murrumbidgee and Murray regions and from around 35 to over 50 percent in the Victorian regions. Under the dry extreme 2030 climate, diversions in driest years would fall by over 20 percent in the Condamine- Balonne, around 40 to 50 percent in New South Wales regions (except the Lachlan), over 70 percent in the Murray and 80 to 90 percent in the major Victorian regions.

The report predicts that by 2030 there will 50% less water flowing at the end of the catchment ----the Murray Mouth end in South Australia ---- than now, if the climate change conditions of the past ten years continue. It says that there will be increased use of groundwater even though current groundwater usage is unsustainable in seven of the twenty high-use groundwater areas in the MDB. Surely the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will set caps on future surface and groundwater use.

Why then is the Brumby Government in Victoria building a pipeline to take water from the Victorian part of the Murray River for Melbourne? It is from that threatened southern Murray-Darling Basin that 75 billion litres will be diverted down the Goulburn pipeline to Melbourne. The State Government is investing $1 billion in new irrigation infrastructure in the hope of stemming the amount of water that is "lost" each year, and thus keeping both farmers and city domestic consumers happily supplied.

Sure Melbourne's water storages are at 33.3 per cent capacity compared to 40.2 per cent at the same time last year and the threat to move to stage 4 water restrictions, under which all outdoor watering would be banned, looms. But why that pipeline option instead of capturing storm water and recycled water? Why is the Commonwealth Government merely looking on whilst this happens? Why did it agree to this pipeline?

The Brumby Government and the water policymakers are not willing to encourage urban and regional water re-use when they have committed large chunks of money to a questionable pipeline and an expensive desalination plant with its high cost of water. Isn't it about time it started looking at reducing the amount of land used for irrigated agriculture (which consumes 77 per cent of the state's water) rather than continuing to prop up uneconomic irrigation farms?

At some point the Commonwealth Government is going to have to take some serious steps to making the irrigation practices in the Murray Darling Basin more sustainable. One step requires pressuring the states to prevent the projected rise in ground water.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:21 AM | | Comments (15)


Please make it stop Gary.
I am so tired of watching this river die and nobody doing anything about and in fact simply ignoring it apart from platitudes.
Recently I was involved in a major baseline survey of bird species in the wetlands of the lower Murray. The survey counted species along about a hundred kms of lagoons. Nothing there. Virtually no wetland species birds, a mere handful except at 2 places, one a mere puddle and the other artificially maintained.
The death of an ecosystem.

where was that? What part of the lower Murray? The Riverland? The Coorong? I see that plans are afoot to build a dam between Clayton and Hindmarsh Island to create a pool from the flows of the Tookyarta Creek and Finness River. This is to prevent salt-water flooding of Lake Alexandrina devastating the internationally recognised wetlands in the Currency Creek and Finniss area.

Yep, someone please stop teh stupids.
We'll be going to sites like this in months and years to come and STILL Cubby creek and the like will be arrogantly proceeding with their premeditated, psychopathic and spiteful ruinations of the nation's main river systems.
Unless they have worked out with their tame politicians a better way of rorting the buybacks.

I see that the drought and lack of water for irrigation is forcing citrus farmers to shift towards more organic methods---less yield but increased flavor and quality are the result

From Blanchetown to Murray Bridge . It was bloody depressing. Absolutely depressing, the 2 places that had birds just highlighted the contrast to the rest. And although we were not looking at vegetation specifically it was even more depressing to have to force our way through mainly weeds growing out of cracked dry lagoon beds littered with the shells of Murray mussels.

Yeah, I have a story about that. Yonks ago some hippie greeny treehugging types I know tried to interest Riverland growers in organic fruits. They got treated with contempt.
But they must have succeeded with at least one bloke cos 4 years ago I was in the Riverland and this grower was proudly telling a group of us how he had been contacted by a German comany wanting to buy ALL the organic oranges he had at prices 3 times the average for non-organics and the Germans would pay ALL costs. I nearly had a shot at him for the shortsightedness of his mates but decided not too. He was the Nationals rep at the polling booth, it was election day, and I was doing it for the greens. Best to let it slide I thought.

By the way I notice the Lib candidate for the Riverland is the boss irrigator. Oh dear!

there is something happening in the Senate today, when Greens and Coalition senators are expected to propose amendments to block the north-south pipe taking water from the basin to Melbourne.

We will see if the ALP opposes the amendment.

yeah my impression of the Riverland irrigators---grape and citrus fruit---was that they'd pump the water on to get big quantities of product and to hell with quality and flavour.

I guess you could have asked the guy at the polling booth why his fellow irrigators were so opposed to good farming practices.

The Riverland economy must be taking a hit these days. Are people leaving or just trying to hang on and hoping that extra water will be eventually found once the drought breaks? Do they think that climate change is a fiction?

Yes and no.
A proper answer would take a lot of space and show a complexity that is not usually presented. I'm not au fait with the Riverland as such, more with the middle Murray.
Just to give 1 apparent anomaly to the usual doom and gloom PR [eg Xenophon], Mannum seems to be booming, 500 new houses scheduled, a new houseboat marina approved [incidentally the tourism and recreation industry is definitely suffering from a lack of waterways , yet here's a new marina????],and a new shopping centre on the way.
Its pertinent to note that irrigation along the river is less economically important than its proponents want us to believe. Tourism/recreation/services provision private and govt. are each more important.

Its a jigsaw with many pieces.

I would have to spend some time checking stats to give a real answer to your question. I suppose the quick, and necesarily partly misleading answer to your question is that its not hurting as much as some would want us to believe. And I suspect we'll get a real dose of doom and gloom from the Lib candidate in the near future. Which will be treated as if from a sacred voice from the summit.
Sorry I can't be more specific and helpful.

I see that Penny Wong, the Commonwealth Water Minister, is still playing it softy softly.

She is saying that "business as usual simply cannot continue" (we knew that ten have commitments under the National Water InitIative (what has happened to that?) and that she would encourage the states to achieve much more sound and detailed management of ground water (the states need to be penalised).

It's more talk about plans to be drawn up by the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority to link groundwater and surface water. We need action not plans.

isn't Xenophon the voice in the Senate for the SA irrigators on this issue? Or am I being too harsh?

Where is the water going to come from for the new marina at Mannum? Is it for more holiday houses for the Adelaide set? Like Hindmarsh Island?

interesting about Mannum. They are certainly hurting Hindmarsh Island way near Goolwa. The recreational boating crowd are moving their boats to the Wirrina Cove on the west side of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The water wars intensify.

The Senate last night passed an amendment to the Federal Government's Water Amendment Bill that would prevent any new water being taken away from the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Opposition and the Greens are opposed to the North-South pipeline project because they say it takes water away from farmers and the environment. As Opposition water spokesman Greg Hunt pointed out Victoria should find other ways to boost Melbourne's supplies:

There are profoundly important things that can be done for Melbourne - 300 billion litres of recycled water which is dumped as sewage off our coast ... is water that should be recycled in Melbourne every year for industry and agriculture... That's the water Melbourne should be using, not stealing from the Goulburn, the Murray and the lower lakes.

Sounds sensible to me. Penny Wong has a problem. She has been left, for all intents and purposes, defending the Brumby Government taking water from the River Murray. that will not go down well in Adelaide or SA, which is her home state.

In passing the bill to establish Commonwealth control of the river system, the Senate's amendments include blocking construction of a Victorian pipeline and $50 million to help farmers and those in the lower reaches of the Murray River.

The bill will now go back to the House of Representatives, where the Government can accept the changes, or reject them and send the bill back to the Senate again.

Wong is playing her cards close to her chest.

"The test I applied in the Senate and the test we will apply in the House is we will not agree to amendments which will jeopardise the reforms which are necessary for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin.As you will recall, we did support a couple of amendments where we thought they were reasonable. That is the test we will apply in the House of Representatives.

We have not seen decisive action from the Rudd government in relation to the water crisis and the collapsing Murray Darling river system.It is quite a contrast to the way it has addressed the financial crisis.