December 15th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Christ child: a life lived for the whole world

WATER RESOURCES Murray-Darling management delivers the worst of both worlds

CANBERRA OBSERVED Libs fish around for explanations

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwanese agree to stick with nuclear power


VICTORIAN ELECTION Coalition collapse

ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY Mondragon Corporation: humanity at work

BREXIT December 12: D-Day for Britain's EU vote

EUTHANASIA WA Government ignores objections and lessons

TAIWAN Referendum stems homosexual tide

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Free trade and the WTO in the Trump era

MUSIC Teacher teachers: The jarring note in music courses

CLASSIC CINEMA The Adventures of Robin Hood: The one and only

BOOK REVIEW A triumph of determination

BOOK REVIEW An escape from futility and addiction



HIGHER EDUCATION Massification: it's the name of the game

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Murray-Darling management delivers the worst of both worlds

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, December 15, 2018

The current approach to managing the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) seems to be a classic case of “straining out gnats while swallowing camels”.

The Federal Government plans to return an additional 450 gigalitres of water “to the environment” as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) via $1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy farmers’ water allocations and increase water efficiency. Already, 2100 GL of water has been diverted away from agri­cultural production to “environmental flows” as part of the MDBP.

A further 605 GL is being directed to the environment via water “savings measures”. Up to 70 per cent of water in reservoirs feeding the MDB is earmarked for “the environment”. One of the problems with diverting such large amounts of water away from food production and sending it down river is that there is no scientific basis to claims that the extra water is benefitting the environment. Quite the reverse, in fact.

The Barmah and Moira forests northeast of Echuca usually flood only about once every 10 years but, with the increased river flows, the forests have flooded four of the past five years and have been flooded for the past five months.

Chris Brooks, chairman of the Southern Riverina Irrigators Association, said that he is seeing mass fish-kills of Murray cod, kangaroos marooned on islands dying from lack of food, and wild brumbies and lizards dying because grasslands and their food habitat is unnaturally flooded.

When these floodwaters remain over the warmer months a hypoxic blackwater event can occur, which can kill the ancient redgum trees in the forest. These trees are used to annual climatic variations and are now dying from sustained over-watering. “We are using environmental water to do environmental damage,” Mr Brooks said.

He said that forcing 13,000 megalitres per day through the Barmah Choke in an attempt to deliver huge amounts of water to South Australia, when its spill­over limit was 8,500 ML/day, was causing unintended flooding of forests and not delivering the water to South Australia, which in any event only turns a shallow, naturally estuarine lower-lakes system into freshwater lakes.

At the same time as environmental damage is occurring, untold damage is being done to rural communities that rely on water. It has been estimated that lack of water is costing the Murray Valley region nearly $200 million in lost production annually.

The Murray Valley, North Central Victorian and Goulburn-Broken regions contribute 15 per cent ($2.25 billion) of the gross value of irrigated agricultural production to the national economy.

Since July this year the NSW Murray area has received zero water allocation despite persistently high river flows. Doctors Point on the Murray River had a flow of 16,270 ML/day on November 29, with the river level status marked as “rising”. All Murray storages except the Hume Dam (43.43 per cent), as of November 29, were between 74.82 per cent and 100.74 per cent full (that is, full beyond capacity).

Despite the abundance of water in storages, SunRice announced at the end of November that up to 100 jobs will be lost from their milling, packing and warehouse operations in Leeton and Deniliquin because of the “significantly reduced Riverina rice crop anticipated in 2019 … due to very low water availability and high water prices”.

SunRice said the 2019 crop size is expected to be the second smallest on record since the start of the Millennium Drought in 2003.

Fourth generation Moama farmer Peter McCallum has personal experience of the MDBP’s horrendous effects upon the livelihoods of Riverina locals. He grew rice along with two neighbouring farms with indigenous owners and they employed three workers, two of whom were indigenous. With reduced water allocations every year and temporary water prices rising from around $30/ML to $400/ML after the MDBP took effect, he could no longer sustain rice farming and has had to relinquish irrigated farming and resort to dryland farming, while his sons have had to find work off the farm.

He noted: “I can unequivocally say that, after growing up in the region and working with the community, over-watering of forests to encourage flora and fauna regeneration is having incredibly harmful effects. These are ramifications which can only be seen by having a long-term relationship with an area.”

Surely, a wiser spend of $1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money would be to build new dams, which would give farmers back viable water allocations, help drought-proof the Murray Darling Basin – ensuring our food security – and keeping food prices low. The 103 GL Wyaralong Dam completed in 2011 in southeast Queensland cost $380 million to build. This has been the only dam built to service the capital cities since 1984.

While governments expend enormous resources directing more water away from agricultural production, which in turn is killing natural habitats, this money could be used to build many dams that would secure our water security rather than decimate rural and regional communities.

  • Measures that would negate spiralling water prices and the need to send massive amounts of water downriver to South Australia include:
  • Only active farmers having the right to carry over water from one season to the next.
  • Construction of “Lock 0” near Wellington and supplying the surrounding areas around the Lower Lakes via a channel or pipe.
  • Removing the barrages to allow seawater to access the Lower Lakes.

Federal Water Minister David Littleproud asked those attending a public forum in Shepparton on October 31 to “take a leap of faith” in relation to recovering another 450 GL of water. “I can’t change [the plan],” he added. A clause in the MDBP legislation states that the 450 GL cannot be delivered unless it has neutral or positive socioeconomic effects. But this does not take into account the wider ramifications for communities relying on irrigation water whose consumptive pool will be further reduced, only the effect on individual farmers who take part in reducing their water allocations.

Speak Up, a grassroots collective of local government, business chambers, farmer organisations and community groups, will lobby the Minco meeting of all water ministers in Melbourne on December 14 to call for action to help rural communities that rely on sustainable water allocations. Let’s hope the politicians can show leadership and put their constituents’ wellbeing before ill-founded “green” ideology.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm