18 December, 2010

Murray Darling Basin Plan

The market researchers/analysts tell me that you wont win a "counter-intuitive" argument. Because people have been conditioned by repetitive claims of a particular point of view, to forthrightly state the opposite is likely to be dismissed out of hand. So they advise coming at the issue in a more subtle or different way. Sorry,but I am just not built that way! I like to think that I seek after truth and get emotionally upset when I see claims that I regard as untruthful. I do understand that there are deep philosophical arguments about what is truth, but let's keep it simple.

The debate about our inland rivers is a good example. It seems to me that the (conditioned) starting point for most commentators is that it is taken as a given that "our rivers are unhealthy and that this is due to taking too much water out of them". The MDB Plan certainly starts from that accepted position. I think that both the lack of health and the excessive extraction claims, are untrue. (And this is where your counter-intuition is triggered and I've lost you!) But, please read on.

It is a fact that the Murray Darling Basin has never been more sustainably productive. Yes, it has always been subject to huge variability, and there is no better example than the last ten years of record low rain (and run-off) and now massive floods. We must stop claiming that the natural results of dryness amount to river “ill health” and blaming that on extractions, when low availability has meant very low allocations/extractions (if any). Our forebears did a much better job than they are being given credit for.

A significant exception is the acid sulphate soils of the Lower Lakes. Not allowing salt water in, as happened naturally in dry times, has been a gross error and the evaporation losses of fresh water are indefensible. Certainly we can manage the system better, but let’s concentrate on making the cake bigger and stop all of this self flagellation and accept the dominance of Nature. Examine the numbers!

The MDB Plan keeps talking about the upper limit for extractions of 13,700GL. It never mentions that total extractions in 2008/9 (the most recent years for which figures are available) were only 3,500GL. In other words, the allocations governed by the water sharing plans for each major river, would seem to be working well and this self-correcting mechanism is doing just what it was designed to do. Focusing on reducing water licenses/entitlements and ignoring allocations really makes no sense. Likewise the oft repeated statement that "our rivers are over-allocated" most commonly reveals a lack of understanding of just how the system works.
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