August 28, 2012
The states are still negotiating the Murray-Darling Basin plan. The current plan on the table, designed by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority, suggests a range of between 2400 and 3200 gigalitres, depending on water-saving measures plus a small increase in the amount of groundwater extracted from the system. NSW wants much more groundwater extracted.
The southern states of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia are where the contests over water and related funding are most severe in that Victoria and NSW believe the target should be 2100 gigalitres returned to the river.
River Murray mouth
The conflicts over water and funding are there because this is where most of the over-allocation has occurred, and the Murray-Darling Basin plan, reinforces and asserts the eastern states' hegemony – again. From this perspective South Australia is the recalcitrant state because it wants too much water returned to the river to sustain wetlands. The SA figure is 4000 gigalitres.
The policy impetus can be gleaned from the Windsor Inquiry's report--- Of drought and flooding rains: Inquiry into the impact of the Guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The key recommendation is that the government build irrigation infrastructure instead of buying back water entitlements from willing sellers.
The aim was to find measures to increase irrigation efficiency, in response to rural angst about water buybacks. The investment in regional futures involving investment to improve irrigation efficiency would allow water to be reallocated. However, it is quite apparent that inappropriate and largely unproductive agricultural enterprises based on inefficient irrigation practices are no longer sustainable.
South Australia's position is that if a deal is done with NSW and Victoria which sells out South Australia's interests then the SA Government will challenge that plan in the High Court.