Recently a radio commentator signed off by saying “we have spent billions of dollars on the MDB, yet the Lower Darling has ceased to flow”. The speaker clearly believed that this statement said it all. In fact, it is a non sequitur. It simply does not follow that spending billions will create flow events. Nature dominates and man fiddles at the edges.
Most of the MDB Plan expenditure has been in the purchasing by the Government of water entitlements from private irrigators. A water entitlement gives the holder the right to a share of a consumptive pool when there are sufficient flows for allocations to be made. No substantial flows/no allocations.
In an “event river” like the Darling above Menindee Lakes, with no major State owned storages to regulate flows and which fluctuates from feast (massive flows) to famine (no or very low flow), changing ownership of entitlements does not increase the events. What is frequently reported in terms of Government purchasing water, actually refers to entitlements. In other words “phantom water” until such times as rain and river flows are sufficient for allocations to be made or in the Darling’s case river height pumping thresholds to be reached and exceeded.
If there were no extractions for irrigation whatever in the Upper Darling when the last substantial flow allowed pumping to take place, the Lower Darling today at say, Wilcannia (of river bed cricketing fame), would be exactly as it is-not flowing, as there have been no subsequent events, other than the small flow now occurring, when extractions have responsibly been embargoed. The problem is lack of rain and significant run-off.
(David Boyd is the former Chairman and C.E.O. of Clyde Agriculture Limited and a former General Manager of the Rural Division of Dalgety. Clyde was a major irrigator on the Barwon/Darling River in NSW, a large flood plain grazier on the Castlereagh River (Wingadee), the Macquarie River (Oxley) and the Warrego River (Toorale). It was also a dryland grain producer and the nations largest wool producer. Mr. Boyd has had a lifelong interest in inland Australia’s water flows and had had first hand experience in rural Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. He was until recently a Director of Tandou Limited a major irrigator on the Lower Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers and is Chairman of agricultural research fund the McGarvie Smith Institute.)