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Canberra watch: water « Previous | |Next »
December 5, 2008

So it has come to this in the Murray Darling Basin. South Australia will have to buy water to guarantee supplies for critical human needs in Adelaide and towns next year. Necessary water supplies to Adelaide and towns across the state are at this stage not secured from July next year, and this has forced the Rann Government onto the open water market. Authorities must have 201gigalitres in reserve to ensure the water needs of the nation's fifth-largest city and the rest of the state are able to be met.

And Victoria is taking water from the River Murray for Melbourne. And the Rudd government ducks and weaves on the issue of the new pipeline to Melbourne. Is the pipeline the price that Rudd Labor pays for Victoria to sign up to the commonwealth taking charge of Australia's largest river system? There is to be no cap on the water taken from the River Murray in Victoria until 2019!

What kind of deal is this? Isn't the Rudd Government committed to a more sustainable use of water in the Murray-Darling Basin?

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission reports that inflow into the Murray last month was 140 gigalitres, just 18 per cent of the long-term average of 780gigalitres. November was the 38th consecutive month of below-average inflows. Under the River Murray dry flow contingency plans, the first priority is given to critical human needs. Yet the modernization of Victorian irrigation is premised on "normal" flows of 780 gigalitres, not on the more realistic reduced flows in a warmed up world.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:49 AM | | Comments (13)


The Coalition opposition's attempt to amend the legislation to block the pipeline from the Murray to Melbourne came to naught. The Liberals backed down after the Rudd government rejected the amendment in the Senate. A lack of political courage.

I'm a little confused as to why Melbourne shouldn't have access to Murray basin water because South Australia has to buy our some of it's irrigaters.

Victoria is spending a lot more, putting channels into pipes and closing shallow dams forever. We are in a drought, things have to change. The first to go will be the farms, not the towns.

Oh and while your complaining take a note of the increased area that has been put under irrigation in South Australia in the last 30 years. It will not survive this drought, the cities ( including Melbourne) will.

complaining? The post asks questions about a deal struck between the Rudd Government and Brumby Government.

Serious though:
1. critical human needs was meant to come before irrigators in terms of the governance of the Murray Darling Basin.

2. At a time when there is a need to reduce allocations because of over-allocations Victoria is taking extra water by connecting Melbourne to the River Murray under the guise of modernization irrigation infrastructure.

3. Victoria refuses to allow water trading over 4% of the water allocated and so it is propping up inefficient farms in a warmed up world.

4.the Commonwealth Government should be to buy water rights from farmers rather than fund on-farm projects to cut water wasted from leakage.

charles, the question is why Melbourne has the "right" to requisition resources from other areas that already fully harness said resources(some will say over-harness). Melbourne has obviously outgrown it's safe supply level, but why is rural Victoria to pay when all Melbourne has to do is recycle and/or capture storm runoff.
This political aversion to recycling is a joke.

Charles is right in a way--in the sense that the Rann Government has done very little to address the issue of SA running out of water.By that is meant that it can no longer take water from the River Murray for granted. This possibility has been known for some time in SA

Yet The Rann Government remained opposed to desalination up until the middle of last year, and it has done very little to recycle storm water. Consequently, the desalination plant is many years away.

Water is going to be a hot political topic in 2009/10 since water prices will keep on increasing.

Salisbury in Adelaide's northern suburb has strongly backed water recycling. Two-thirds of the city's annual 30 gigalitres of water consumption now comes from recycled stormwater.

The Rann Government has not supported this local government initiative.

if Victoria receives money from the Commonwealth for its water infrastructure than that money should have conditions imposed to penalize Victoria for dragging its heels on water reform. One condition would be the removal of state rules that limit water trading.

It's all carrots so far. There is a need to return to thecarrot-and-stick approach of national competition payments to ensure that premiers and chief ministers sign on to the commonwealth's water reforms.

the Commonwealth Government should push reform by buying water rights from farmers rather than funding on-farm projects to cut water wasted from leaks and evaporation. This should have been done years ago.If it had been done there would have been water in the river.

The policy concern has been to protect regional communities not environmental benefit. Regional communities have resisted the buyback of water licences as it represents their decline.

gary, the water purchase as I see it is to have water should inflows once again be less than average next year. Many miss the big picture, inflows are at 20% of average and have been below average for over three years. In fact inflows have set new, previously unthought of, lows during those years. Now you can blame that on irrigators, leaky channels whatever you want- but the water isn't there. Irrigators don't have it, storages don't have it and the catchment doesn't have it. SA is implementing an insurance policy, at a time when water prices have halved. Seems like a reasonable purchase to me.
Water availability should never be taken for granted, it's just that since regulation of the Murray system it has been so reliable. Certainly from a critical needs and high security viewpoint. It still is from a critical needs perspective.

despite my position that water has historically been over-allocated by incompetent state governments I do accept that the water isn't there because of lack of rain in the southern part of the basin.

Some say that it is drought that has caused this; others say it is climate change I say it is drought overlaid by climate change. This is the future of the basin--far less rain and less inflows.

Everybody needs to plan for this kind of future.

Article a little old, but I will add a comment anyway.

The left wind reg, the Weekly Times, had an opinion piece pointing out South Australia's hypocrisy . The theme of the piece: Victoria spent many millions fixing up it's irrigation system and piped some of the water saved to Melbourne. South Australia has done nothing more constructive than buy water on the open market for a town that is also not in the Murray basin.

The article goes on to make several points unrelated to this debate, that being the Victoria Government had to adopt solutions that where sure to work, damming another river will only work if it actually rains. Desalination will work, but will come on line in 2010, upgrading the Murray basin irrigation system and bring some of the savings to Melbourne is also a sure winner and will come online sooner.

In reply to comments made to my inability to understand South Australia's problem.
On the issue of Victoria capping water trading, I happen to agree that is not a good thing, open water trading would force the issues faster, in my view, if this continues some Murray irrigation towns have to die, but you should be careful what you ask for:

1) The cities can afford to pay the most for water, if supply continues to be limited the farmers will be the first to go. Further an open market would legitimize Melbourne doing what South Australia has done, that is buy water and contribute nothing to upgrading the system. The pipeline to the Murray Basin becomes nothing more than an efficient delivery system for product purchased.
2)Farming will move upstream as the water loses are less. What is happening in Queensland would be supported by open trading. They are upstream and the weather is appropriate for the growing of several high value crops.

though SA is hypocritical about water issues it did up upgrade its irrigation systems years ago. Most are drip irrigation. Your claim is that:

South Australia has done nothing more constructive than buy water on the open market for a town that is also not in the Murray basin

Plus South Australia has done nothing to upgrading the system These are false. It is the other Basin states that have dragged their heels on modernizing their irrigation infrastructure.

The problem with Victoria's upgrading the Murray basin irrigation system and bring some of the savings to Melbourne is that it is not a sure winner as you claim. That upgrade is premised on there being normal historical flows in the River Murray system---but that is no longer a realistic assumption. So some of the upgraded irrigation infrastructure will become stranded assets.

The article you are working from has a flawed understanding of water issues in the Murray Darling Basin.

its good to see that you are critical of the severe limits on water trading by Victoria. Small irrigators in Victoria to ransom by denying them access to an agriculture exit package as long as the state Government continues to refuse to lift a barrier to its water trade.

Victoria also needs to remove the 10 per cent limit on water entitlements that can be acquired by non-landholders, which includes the federal Government's environmental water fund.