Letter to The Land-15.03.2012

The following letter was given ‘Letter of the week” status in The Land of March 15-
The letter from Diana Gibbs (The Land,March 1) a Board Member of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, raises some fundamental issues. We need to remember that the  Water Act was drafted at a time of extreme pressure from drought and green group agitation. We had the likes of Tim Flannery arguing it was never going to rain again which, among other reactions, saw our States undertake a scramble to build de-salination plants most of which would now appear to be white elephants. We saw a massive demonstration of the “blame factor”- a tendency to blame  stressful conditions on human actions rather than on natural causes. An examination of the statistics reveals that during the drought the water sharing plans for the Basin’s individual rivers worked well. The allocation process saw irrigation extractions drop to very low levels and with the help of the upstream dams (particularly on the Murray) and the Snowy Diversions, we managed to keep the Murray river flowing through the worst drought in our recorded history – an unprecedented achievement.

Now after three years of flooding rains we have been reminded how Dorothea Mackellar and her “droughts and flooding rains” got it so right. We need to step back and calmly re-assess before we take actions which may unduly constrain our productive capacity with very negative impacts on socio-economic activity throughout the basin, yet achieve negligible environmental benefits. The Basin has probably never been in better condition than it is at the moment. No room for complacency, but time to make sure what we are planning to do is the right path for the future strength of the nation.

The Water Act is clearly deeply flawed, drafted as it was to give the Commonwealth power over the States by drawing on international environmental agreements. As a former NSW Director General of Water Resources has pointed out- (quote) “The Commonwealth Water Act is framed in such a way that it prevents integrated river basin management in a way that is consistent with international best practice.” (end quote). It fails to address the contentious issue of the Lower Lakes and The Barrages and the Act precludes from consideration the optimising of water conservation objectives from the Snowy Scheme. These facts, together with former MDBA Chairman Michael Taylor’s warning that the Act does not allow a properly balanced outcome, leads me to the view that the Act should be repealed.

I remain greatly concerned that as a consequence of misguided action by Government we will cause great socio-economic damage, unnecessarily limit future production, and do little or nothing for the environment.

(I make these comments from the perspective of somebody who has watched the Basin debate closely, particularly in my past role as chairman and chief executive of Clyde Agriculture which at that time was not only an irrigator but had extensive floodplain grazing.) 

I often cite the Government purchase of Toorale Station at Bourke as a microcosm of the Basin Plan. If Toorale had continued to operate it would have reduced river flows in the Darling River past Louth in 2010/11 by 0.01%! 

In other words, great social cost for no environmental benefit. 
David Boyd
St Ives NSW

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