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Murray Darling Basin: sad news « Previous | |Next »
July 9, 2009

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority reports that storages across the Murray-Darling Basin are low after nine dry years. Inflows for 2008-09 were the third-lowest in 118 years of records, with the soil so parched even the runoff from heavy rains in the northern basin have failed to make it south.

The effect in the lower lakes (Alexandrina and Albert) and the Murray Mouth region of the basin is this.

In The Australian Siobhain Ryan and Asa Wahlquist report that almost half the water entitlements purchased by the Rudd Government under the national Murray-Darling rescue plan last financial year will never reach the distressed Murray system except in times of flood. They say:

New figures reveal the Rudd government made NSW's Lachlan, Gwydir and Macquarie catchments the top targets for its big-spending buyback program in 2008-09, despite the fact that they all terminate in wetlands. About 182,000 of the 397,000 megalitres of water entitlements bought across the basin last financial year are now confined to catchments that rarely flow into the main Murray system, which has been devastated by drought and over-extraction.

It is true that the Gwydir and Lachlan catchments as in poor and very poor health with internationally important wetlands that provided homes for threatened or migratory species and they do need water. But why spin these buybacks as helping the Murray? Though we have a Basin Planin process -- ie., a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin---very little water has actually been returned to the River Murray's environment.

The plan's emphasis on the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin is a joke, given the barriers to trade that have limited the purchase options of the the federal buyback push. Thus there is major resistance from the states, with NSW boycotting further sales to the commonwealth while Victoria's 4per cent limit on the trading of water out of individual irrigation areas remains in place. South Australia is pushing ahead with a High Court challenge to the Victorian policy or limiting trade.

I should qualify my remarks about the Basin Plan. It is stated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority that:

The plan will provide a fundamental framework for future water-planning arrangements, and will be based on the best and latest scientific, social, cultural and economic knowledge, evidence and analysis. In preparing the plan, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority will consult extensively with Basin state and territory governments, key stakeholders, and rural and regional communities across the Basin.

However, all we have us is a concept statement about the Basin Plan, since the first Basin Plan is to be released in 2011. So all we have is the concept statement that explains in general terms the key elements and approach being taken in developing the Basin Plan, what it will contain, and when and how it is being developed.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:14 AM | | Comments (6)


The water in Lake Albert now is somewhere between 5000 and 6000 EC units (a measure of salinity) which would kill your lawn. It is definitely not drinking material for dairy cows.

Kenneth Davidson has been writing a series of articles about how Melbourne will improve its water supply.
Melbourne has been in drought for 15 years and the water storages are at 27% capacity,
trees in parks and streets are dying from lack of water,
the plans to recycle sewerage are blocked,
the north south pipeline is under construction and will only take water from the Goulbourn River in 2010 - there will be no more without rain
the arguements over the desal plant continues
Today's article summarises the position

gary, the focus on northern valley water has us perplexed too. We've known all along that these purchases would do nothing for the Murray river, let alone the lakes. Politically buying water out of cotton areas is probably an easy decision, but wasn't this supposed to be about the Coorong initially and then the lakes?
I'm not familiar with the Lachlan valley, but the Gwydir wetlands already had a substantial environmental allocation which is rarely used, despite availability, largely because only 36%("normal" year) of the valleys water flow is used for irrigation. Much less than the Murray in general.

Nan, the lakes would be 35,000 EC or so now if it weren't for human intervention. 5-6000 is not so bad if EC is the measure of importance.

there sure is a lot of spin around all this to cover up the inaction. it is as if they are paralyzed about the transformations that are taking place across the basin.

thanks for the link. Davidson makes some good points about the Brumby Government's water policies. First,

Holding's argument that the Government couldn't go ahead with recycling water from the Carrum water treatment plant because it was too expensive compared with the Wonthaggi desal alternative is simply unbelievable.Carrum cleans up 42 per cent of Melbourne's waste water and pumps it out into the ocean at Gunnamatta.The "waste" water is already clean enough for recycling for industrial uses and parks and gardens. It could even be made fully potable if mixed with potable dam water and cleaned by natural processes.

The plan developed by Melbourne Water in 2002 was to pump part of this water to Yallourn where it could replace 100 gigalitres of potable water used in the production of electricity at Yallourn and also supply irrigators and wetlands along the 140-kilometre route. This would free up 100 gigalitres of potable water for Melbourne, adding about 25 per cent to the city's water supply and removing any need for desalination of sea water.


The north-south pipeline removes 75 gigalitres from Goulburn irrigators. Meanwhile, 100 gigalitres of higher quality water from Carrum will be pumped out to sea. This is the equivalent of destroying $900 million of farm gate revenue a year, increasing the price of Melbourne's food when world food prices are already rising due to climate change.

As Davidson points out the strategy of the Brumby Government is kill the Carrum water recycling project.


Gary, the biggest shame is that money for water savings is only on the table now. While it is likely to be more expensive per ML returned to the river it would have promoted jobs, or retained jobs at the least. My understanding is that the gov't has bought about 20% of the water entitlements in the Gwydir. Whilst the drought has curbed production and jobs to the extent that there will be no real short term effect, it is a blow to local business hanging on for better times. Now there is less to hang on for.