21 March, 2012

Australian Environment Foundation

I strongly support the following statement:-

Holmes & Media Watch versus Dr Marohasy & AEF 

Jonathan Holmes in his Media Watch segment of March 19th attacking Dr.Jennifer Marohasy’s research into the Murray’s lower lakes, raised questions about the very name of the Australian Environment Foundation:  his piece was titled ‘What's in a name?’

Holmes purported to focus his reporting on the question of journalists’ research into those who take public positions.  But Holmes’ main implication was that AEF is pretending to be something it isn’t.  Yes, indeed - it isn’t your typical deep green, issue-driven, highly political advocacy group with an anti-business anti-employment, anti-farming focus.  You don’t have to be a youthful, long-haired, latte-sipping, inner-city dweller to care about the environment.  We aren’t, and we do.

We care particularly when governments base public policy on politics and vote pandering, not on solid research and real evidence.  You have only to look at climate policy in this country to see a glaring example of how this distorted motivation is likely to cost our communities billions of dollars and extinguish thousands of jobs, for absolutely no benefit at all to climate or environment.

Holmes dwelt at length on the origins of AEF, all of which are matters of public record, as they should be.  And what does it matter anyway?  This is a free country where freedom of speech prevails.  AEF like any other group has the right to take any position it chooses.   But the question arises:  how often has Holmes similarly researched the origins and background of deep-green groups?

The real motivation behind Holmes’ take on AEF’s positions is that he doesn’t like them.  He doesn’t like any views that question his belief (for that is what it is) in the supposed need to buy back and divert more MDB water into ‘environmental flows’, just as he dislikes any countervailing views on the still unproven hypothesis that man-made CO2-driven global warming will lead to a climate catastrophe.

As a publicly-paid broadcaster, he has a responsibility to be more even-handed on these issues and to air his prejudices less.

19 March, 2012

James Delingpole Quote of Note-March 2012

If you're a believer in the great global warming religion, facts are actually your enemy. They're your enemy
a) because they so comprehensively undermine everything you believe in and b) because facts are nasty, horrid things that "deniers" use, whereas true believers have no need of them: faith, that's the thing, pure blind faith.

14 March, 2012

Outlook Conference and Water

Last week I attended the annual Agricultural Outlook Conference in Canberra for the umpteenth time. I attended my first in 1975 and have only missed two or three since, so perhaps I have been to 40! One of my workmates once pointed out that nearly every year I would say that I wouldn't bother going, yet still went. Not because of the accuracy of forecasts! Who can do that? No one, climate and unforeseeable events make it impossible. But at least one can identify the factors that impact and thus gain better knowledge of how to deal with the risks and monitor changes as they occur. The other big attraction is meeting and mixing with friends with common interests-to use that hackneyed word-"networking".

Another attraction is that I enjoy going back to Canberra. I did most of my limited schooling there as a boarder at Canberra Grammar School, where my mother was the Housemother for Garran House, the junior boarders abode. After the premature death of my father our family had no home-so CGS was it. Most holidays I went home with school mates, mainly to the Miners family at Adaminaby, and I loved it. Horseback droving trips to the Kiandra snow leases, are experiences I will always treasure. When I left school in 1957 Canberra had a population of 27,000-a big country town with lots of VIP's. I knew every inch of the core area from the back of a pushbike. Whilst today it is so much bigger with a population around 380,000, much remains so familiar.

Five elements of the Conference standout. First the general optimism leading to the question of how well are we prepared to do our bit in meeting the demands from the fast growing middle classes of the "Near North".
Second, I much enjoyed a paper from the Australian Farm Institute's Mick Keogh on agricultural risk. Thirdly, the two papers from JBS Australia's (our major abattoir operator) executives brought home our increasing lack of competitiveness and general domestic cost pressures resulting from the appalling policies of the Gillard Government in respect to labour and so called 'climate change'. Fourthly, the rise of animal production (beef and sheep meat) as the most profitable enterprises at the expense of grain. And fifthly (no surprise), a reinforcement from the Murray Darling Basin Plan session that the Water Act (2007) and the Plan are so dreadfully flawed.

This MDB session disturbed me for a number of reasons-

  • The opening graph showed no impact from the allocation system which dramatically reduced extractions during the recent drought. There was a broadbrush comment that MDB extractions were usually "around 10 to 11,000 GLS."
  • There were many comments such as "recovering water" and "closing the gap" without it would seem an understanding that Government buying entitlements is simply changing ownership from the private sector to the Commonwealth Water Holder (CWH).
According to the ABS, during the most recent years of the drought the very effective water sharing plans for each of the Basin's rivers reduced extractions to-
2005-06     7369
2006-07     4458
2007-08     3141
2008-09     3492
2009-10      3564

not around "10 to 11,000 GLS".

Water entitlements without allocations amount to 'phantom water'. An 'entitlement' only grants the holder a share of  'allocations' when there are any. The entitlements held by the CWH will apparently still attract allocations (when water is available) and nobody really knows what this new player (the Government) is likely to do with them. So we have a situation whereby before allocations are granted the water sharing plans call for a priority to 'critical human needs' and assessed environmental needs. Once these are met then allocations for'consumptive' use are made. So the CWH gets a second bite, presumably mainly for environmental needs and becomes a player in the water market. This gives rise to some interesting conflicts of interest.

It seems to me that if the assessed environmental needs are not covered adequately  under the water sharing plans, which I doubt, then it is those plans that should be changed. Not have the "dog's breakfast" that is now proposed.

I contend that the fact remains that we have confused the natural impact of a very severe drought with "ill-health" and invalidly blamed it on extractions. A situation which has been wonderfully and dramatically corrected in the time honoured manner by the flood flows of the last three years.

We should  repeal the Water Act and begin the process anew along the lines proposed by a former NSW Director General of Water Resources who has had extensive global experience in river management.

I have serious doubts of the wisdom in centralising control in Canberra. The former MDBC/Ministerial Council approach with all the tensions and debates between the States that water management inevitably involves, was once held up around the world as an example of how to do water management properly.

09 March, 2012

Water and the Environment

Some 25 years ago, when I first got involved with irrigation on the Darling River at Bourke I was struck by the massive variability of river flows, the apparent unawareness by the water authorities of the magnitude of the bigger flow events, how frequently (but irregularly) they occurred and the exaggerated view that water managers had of their level of control. I was also struck by what I have come to call the "blame factor" with downstream people on virtually every river attributing low flows to the upstream actions of other people rather than the impact of nature. In so many situations I have observed the dynamic nature of flows and the sensible controls imposed on extractors to protect downstream needs. These controls are either not understood or perhaps don't want to be understood. It is so much more satisfying to blame somebody than attribute low flows to the vagaries of nature.

On Tuesday the 6th. March, the Darling River peaked at Bourke at 13.78 metres. This is a daily flow of 240,000 megalitres. That is the equivalent of about one Sydney Harbour every two days. At these heights the river is well out of its huge banks and small height increases represent huge increases in the volume of water. The daily flow figure is about the same as the total "cap" on all irrigation extractions for twelve months along the Barwon /Darling from Mungindi to Menindee. One days flow, yet our critics claim that there are excessive extractions! In low flow times irrigators are not allowed to extract at all.
The turnaround in conditions following the record drought and now the big flood events of the last three years, is a classic reminder of how Dorothea Mackellar got is so right with her "droughts and flooding rains".

The conventional wisdom, particularly in our cities, is that our inland rivers are "unhealthy" and that this is due to excessive extractions. This view is judged by our politicians to be so widely held by voters that we have seen politicians of all persuasions, pressured by the green groups, proceed with legislation to further reduce extractions. The natural impact of drought has been painted as the consequence of the misguided actions of man. The turnaround in conditions, entirely due to natural events, goes unacknowledged.

I recently attended a high level NSW Government meeting to discuss the MDB Plan. The meeting was attended by three NSW Government Ministers (part time), MPs, current and former State Government water administrator's, representatives of irrigators, privatised water districts, cotton growers, NSW Farmers and  green groups- the NSW Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Inland Rivers Network.

One thing, in particular struck me-the deep shared knowledge between all in the room except the green groups.They continued to spout their ideological mantra about the need to restore the Murray Darling Basin to good health by further restricting extractions. There was no acknowledgement of the turnaround and an assumption that all those awful drought induced problems could be prevented by limiting extactions. I heard statements about the need to return huge quantities of water (like7,600 gigalitres) to the rivers to "restore them to health". And even a comment that the Basin is on the point of eco-collapse. Apparently no recognition that nature, in its time honoured way, has already fixed the situation, which in any event was not caused by extractions. From my observations and from the many people I talk to who live in the Basin, it has probably never been in better condition.

The other point made by "the greens" was the need to take advantage of the $10bn. available from Government. "A once in a lifetime opportunity'.... If the Gillard Government are looking for every $ to achieve a surplus in 2012/13, these funds might be handy.

I remain greatly concerned that as a consequence of misguided action by Government, as proposed in the Plan, we will cause great socio-economic damage, unnecessarily limit future production, for negligible environmental gain. I often sight the Government purchase of Toorale Station at Bourke as a microcosm of the MDB Plan. If Toorale had continued to operate with all the socio-economic benefits to the Bourke community it would have reduced river flows in 2010/11 by 0.01%!

The Commonwealth Water Act and the Plan are deeply flawed. In particular the use of average flow statistics when there are such massive spreads around the averages, is really nonsensical. This leads to focus on single figures unrelated to actual flows. To ask CSIRO to calculate Sustainable Diversion Limits based on average flows is really a silly question asked by people who clearly have no understanding of the massively variable nature of all of our inland rivers. A set figure based on averages might be far too high in a dry year and absurdly low in a wet year. Limits need to be related to actual flows.

 If we had more dams, in the big wet years, we could store very substantial additional amounts of water, yet they would represent only a tiny percentage of the big flows.

David Boyd

Murray Darling Basin Overview

Base Position
The Millennium Drought had a major impact on the Basin.(The renowned recuperative power of the Australian landscape has been demonstrated in its spectacular recovery since the drought broke.)

Water extractions were well controlled by the adaptive management approach embodied in the allocation process, guided by the Water Sharing Plans. 

Natural impacts from extreme drought are being incorrectly labelled as chronic ill-health.

At the top of the Murray and Murrumbidgee the Snowy Scheme is not being managed in a manner which optimises its original water conservation objectives. 

At the bottom, the Murray River has been deprived of its estuary by The Barrages and this has created serious environmental problems, as has the diversion of fresh water flows in the South-East of S.A. to the sea, flows which once drained to the Southern Lagoon of The Coorong.

Asking the CSIRO to come up with single figure Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL's) for the rivers within the Basin reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our inland rivers and their massive variability.To argue that these numbers are "averages" doesn't help, given the enormous spreads around the averages.In using absolute numbers as the MDBA has done, to prescribe acceptable extractions/diversions limits without relating these to actual flows (availability), is really nonsense. 

Ignoring the legal complexities of the Commonwealth Water Act (2007), one has to wonder whether we are proposing to "throw the baby out with the bathwater' in moving to a centralised Commonwealth water management regime. This is particularly the case when one considers the lack of water knowledge and skills at the Commonwealth level.

Our current water bureaucrats could do worse than study how the existing control system operates. It works rather well.