The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is very, very good, a world first in water management because it acknowledges the need to keep enough water in the rivers to keep them health!! So, with so much heated debate about compliance and calls for a pause or even to rip up the Basin Plan, Professor Mike Young, international water reform and policy specialist, says it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water!
At a public forum in Adelaide hosted by Healthy Rivers Ambassadors, Mike called for a truly independent Authority and a robust water-sharing and accounting system. In particular, ‘hands-off’ minimum flows need to be defined to allow Basin rivers and communities alike to survive through drought. The effects of climate change need to be incorporated immediately, with the prospect of much less water.
Mike gave examples of US systems using simple rules rather than complicated modelling – if the water resource declines, allocations get reduced by 5%. He also recommended returning to the system of linking major Commonwealth payments to meeting major deadlines in the Basin Plan. That should give the States enough incentive to get on with removing constraints to flows and finishing critical water management plans!
Richard Beasley SC, Counsel assisting Commissioner Brett Walker at the recent SA Royal Commission, was interviewed by Tory Shepherd, Political Editor from ‘The Advertiser’. Richard called the Water Act an environmental act, because it put environmental needs based on science ahead of social and economic concerns.
The Commission found the change from science-based recovery volumes of at least 4000 GL to the final number of 2750 GL was an act of mal-administration. Richard said that this case of unlawfulness should not be allowed to slide.
The Commission also found that the agreement of SA Water Minister David Speirs to much more stringent criteria before delivering an extra 450 GL of flows to the end of the system was not reasonable in legal terms and that no sensible person would have agreed to a deal so contrary to South Australia’s interests.
In Richard’s view, the Basin Plan without climate change included is failing rural communities, by failing to provide assistance to adapt to the changes coming in a future which will have less available water.
Richard disagreed that water buy-backs have impacts on rural communities, saying most sellers sold only part of their water holdings and 70% retained delivery rights to allow them to buy temporary water and continue irrigating. The Commission heard evidence that money from water sales was spent locally, supporting the local economy.
An audience ‘question and answer’ session followed, with emerging themes in questions including whether water powers should be transferred to the Commonwealth, how to improve compliance, how to get more effective monitoring, how to sell the South Australian story, why the 450 GL is so important, how to manage the Darling River better, how to include climate change, how to change the rules and the opportunity provided by the imminent appointment of a new Authority Chair.
The meeting concluded with a ‘call to action’ from Craig Wilkins, CEO of Conservation Council SA. Attendees were encouraged to text to mobile number 0417 143 986, which converted the texts to emails which were sent both to Minister Littleproud and Shadow Minister Burke. A typical text was ‘The Murray-Darling Basin is in trouble. Need to secure minimum flows to prevent fish kills, keep Lower Darling flowing and protect Coorong.’