Thursday, 8 March 2018

Murray-Darling Basin: water mismanagement just keeps rolling on

Image sourced from Twitter

Having miserably failed to enforce even the most basic of safeguards against widespread water theft in the Murray Darling Basin - such as not allowing unmetered water extraction -  the Murray Darling Basin Authority and then water resources minister and now humble Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce have left us having to rely on leaks to the media to find out the true state of play in the national water wars.

The ailing state of the Darling River has been traced to man-made water extraction, according to a leaked report by the agency charged with overseeing its health.
The "hydrologic investigation", dated last November and obtained by Fairfax Media, analysed more than 2000 low-flow events from 1990-2017 on the Barwon-Darling River between Mungindi near the NSW-Queensland border down to Wilcannia in far-western NSW .

The draft report – a version of which is understood to have been sent to the Turnbull government for comment – comes days after WaterNSW issued a red alert for blue-green algae on the Lower Darling River at Pooncarie and Burtundy.

The paper by Murray-Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) own scientists found flow behaviour had changed since 2000, particularly in mid-sections of the river such as between the towns of Walgett and Brewarrina.

On that section, low or no-flow periods were "difficult to reconcile with impacts purely caused by climate", the scientists said.

Indeed, dry periods on the river downstream from Bourke were "significantly longer than pre-2000", with the dry spells during the millennium drought continuing afterwards.

Water resource development – also described as "anthropogenic impact" – must also play "a critical role" in the low flows between Walgett and Brewarrina, the report said.
The revelations come after the Senate last month voted to disallow changes to the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan that would have cut annual environmental water savings by 70 billion litres…..

A spokeswoman for the authority said the report was "undergoing quality assurance processes prior to publication", with a formal release on its website likely in coming days.

The MDBA commissioned the internal team to "address some of the specific concerns raised" by its own compliance reviews and those of the Berejiklian government, she said.

Terry Korn, president of the Australian Floodplain Association,  said the report confirmed what his group's members had known since the O'Farrell government changed the river's water-sharing plan in 2012 to allow irrigators to pump even during low-flow periods.

Poor policy had been compounded by "totally inadequate monitoring and compliance systems", Mr Korn said.

"Some irrigators have capitalised on this poor management by the NSW government to such an extent that their removal of critical low flows has denied downstream landholders and communities their basic riparian rights to fresh clean water," he said. "This is totally unacceptable."….

Fairfax Media also sought comment from federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

Once publicly outed for sitting on the review report the Murray Darling Basin Authority finally decided to publish it this week.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 2018:

The NSW government intervened to urge the purchase of water rights from a large irrigator on the Darling River that delivered a one-off $37 million profit to its owner while leaving downstream users struggling with stagnant flows.

Gavin Hanlon, the senior NSW water official who resigned last September amid multiple inquiries into allegations of water theft and poor compliance by some large irrigators, wrote to his federal counterparts in the Agriculture and Water Resources Department, then headed by Barnaby Joyce, in late December 2016 urging the buyback of water from Tandou property to proceed.

The Tandou water purchase proposal "should be progressed...given the high cost of the alternative water supply solution" for the property south-east of Broken Hill, Mr Hanlon wrote, according to a document sent on December 23, 2016 and obtained by Fairfax Media.

Early in 2017, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimated the property's annual water entitlements of 21.9 billion litres to be $24,786,750 "based on recent trade values", according to another document listed as "Commercial in Confidence".

Despite this valuation, the federal government by 16 March, 2017 would pay Tandou's owner Webster Ltd more than $78 million. At its announcement on 21 June last year, Webster said in a statement it "expects to record a net profit on disposal in the order of $36-37 million".

The transfer of the water rights are apparently the subject of inquiries by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, with several people saying they have discussed their knowledge of the deal with the agency. An ICAC spokeswoman declined to comment.

Liberal Party donor Christopher Darcy “Chris” Corrigan is Executive Chairman and a significant shareholder in this company

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