14 January, 2011

Murray Darling Basin Plan

Letter published in "The Land" of 13th January:-
Your article ("Floods won't stem Basin reform" The Land January 6) attributes remarks to the MDBA CEO, Rob Freeman, where he claims the existing planning systems allocate too much water during dry periods. If this is so, which I doubt, it is the Water Sharing Plans which guide seasonal allocations, that should be addressed not the total licenses/entitlements on issue. This is not the first time Mr Freeman has made this ambit claim.

In my view the entire Plan and the Water Act are based on two false premises and a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our inland rivers in temperate Australia.

The first false premise is the belief that our rivers are "unhealthy". We have confused lack of health with the natural results of extreme dryness, a condition which has been dramatically corrected by Mother Nature in recent months.

The second false premise is that this "unhealthy condition" was the result of excessive extractions by irrigators.

Nowhere in the Plan Guide does it acknowledge that in the last two years for which we have figures available, total extractions were only 3,500GL in 2008/9 and only 3,000GL in 2007/8.

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.

The Plan Guide constantly refers to the total extraction limit of 13,700GL without explaining that licenses/entitlements without allocations amount to phantom water.

The fundamental misunderstanding is in not recognising that the key characteristic of Australia’s inland rivers is massive variability. The last 7 to 10 years of drought and the recent "big wet" is a classic example.

In such circumstances it is really nonsense to ask CSIRO to calculate “Sustainable Water Yield” which I take to mean the annual amount that can always be extracted. Likewise the setting of Sustainable Diversion Limits makes no sense unless these are set at zero. Irrigators understand and live with these risks and the Minister's call for certainty is really a smoke screen.

I firmly believe that the Water Act (2007) should be repealed (not fiddled with and only amended) and we should start the whole process again.

DAVID BOYD
St Ives
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