Signpost for a healthier river!

The Waikerie Silo Art Project was launched yesterday in brilliant sunshine to an engaged and supportive community, with the theme of ‘healthy rivers, healthy communities‘.  Project driver, local artist and Healthy Rivers Ambassador Liz Frankel, took nearly 15 minutes to acknowledge and thank all the people who have been involved and supported this ambitious project.

This amazing support and donations of materials, time, expertise and essential machinery turned the original grant of $150,000 into a project value of over $1 million! Grain company Viterra has donated the unused silos and site to the local council and it will be landscaped with parking and information boards to create a major tourist destination to draw visitors to Waikerie and the River Murray. Visitors will be encouraged to look for the hidden messages and symbolism incorporated in the artwork by inspiring artists Garry Duncan and Jimmy D’Vate.

This amazing artwork forms a 30 m high signpost calling to everyone to care for our rivers in order to support river communities. Well done everyone involved in bringing this very challenging project to life!

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The Murray-Darling Basin can get back on track!

HRA logoThe 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.’

Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, community engagement, ecosystem services, environmental flows, Healthy Rivers Ambassadors, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, sustainable natural resources management, water issues | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Crazy weather!

It seems that the ‘normal’ weather patterns for Adelaide and south-eastern Australia have changed, leaving us with surprises every other week. Just when we thought it was autumn and changed to warming bedding and pyjamas, it got hot again. It’s become a guessing game every night, how much bedding do we need??  Now there is early Alpine snow in the mountains and Wodonga had more rain in 15 minutes than in 4 months since the beginning of the year — and we need an extra blanket.

Our plants seem to be just as confused. One orchid plant has put up two healthy flowering spikes, well in advance of the usual September flowering. The pink bottlebrush in the front garden has decided to flower for the third time, following spring and summer flowers. It has been growing strongly after the adjacent large competing red-flowering gum tree died and was removed. Maybe it is just celebrating having more space!

Black box trees in the Riverland have decided to put on buds which should be ready to flower in early summer, in spite of the lack of rain in the region since last December. Do they know something we don’t know?? Here’s hoping it is all a sign of more rain in the near future!


Posted in black box, caring for our planet, climate change, eucalypts, phenological cycles, rainfall, sustainable natural resources management, water issues, weather patterns | Tagged , , , ,

Finding a Positive Path Forward to secure the future of the Murray-Darling Basin


Finding a positive forward direction for the Murray-Darling Basin is critical in the next few months, especially with very low autumn rainfall.

Everyone is welcome to a attend a public forum to be held in Adelaide next week to address this vital topic.

The $13Bn Murray-Darling Basin Plan initiated in 2012 has received intensive scrutiny and review over the past year. The Plan is due for completion in 2024 but both the federal Productivity Commission and the SA Royal Commission raised serious concerns about its delivery.  The Darling River fish deaths and concerns over water buy-back transactions have added to the public concern across the Basin.lower darling fish kill

Professor Mike Young, international water reform and policy specialist, will set the scene for understanding what has been achieved so far and what actions are needed to get it back on track.

Richard Beasley SC, Counsel assisting Commissioner Brett Walker at the recent SA Royal Commission, will be interviewed by Tory Shepherd, Political Editor from ‘The Advertiser’. The Royal Commission identified many recommendations to improve the Plan’s outcomes. Richard will be asked to identify the critical actions to finding a constructive way forward for the Basin Plan.

An audience ‘question and answer’ session will follow. The meeting will conclude with a ‘call to action’ from Craig Wilkins, CEO of Conservation Council SA.

The public forum will be held on Wednesday 8 May from 5:30-7 pm in the Bradley Forum, Hawke Building, Level 5, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide.

The meeting is hosted by Healthy Rivers Ambassadors Anne Jensen and Bob Newman, and supported by the Conservation Council of SA, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Register to attend here:           MDB Forum Eventbrite Registration

Posted in caring for our planet, community engagement, environment, Healthy Rivers Ambassadors, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management | Tagged , , , ,

Return visit to Inle Lake in Myanmar

Back in Myanmar for the first time since June 2014 for a new project at Inle Lake, what had changed and what was the same?

Locals were complaining about the weather, about an unusually abrupt change from cooler winter months to the hot dry season, with no time to adjust to the very warm and humid conditions.

Everyone seemed to have smart phones now and the electricity was no longer prone to black-outs.

Out in the middle of the lake, the water was still extraordinarily clear and water plants were healthy and vigorous. The water lilies were flowering, and it was amazing to find that each tiny flower on the surface was attached to a massive spreading plant below the surface.

Fires were burning on all the hills surrounding the lake, shrouding the views in persistent smoke but creating great sunrises and sunsets.

The boats were as noisy and uncomfortable as ever, but it was magic to be able to switch off the engine and drift quietly so we could take depth measurements. The tourists whizzing past don’t know what they are missing!

The lake reflections in still conditions were as magical as ever, but the lake can be rough and bumpy too. Our project may go smoothly or be rough and bumpy — time will tell!


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Restoring Rigour to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

A group of 90 concerned South Australian citizens gave up their time on 12 February to hear what needs to be done to get the Murray-Darling Basin back on track. Two recent reports found serious problems with the implementation process for the Plan, but the recommendations are being brushed aside by governments and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). The size of the audience reflected heightened community concerns since the disastrous fish kills in the Lower Darling.

Basin Plan in one page

The Productivity Commission conducted a 5-year review of progress with implementing the Plan and found very serious concerns, leading to the conclusion that failure of the Plan was a real risk with very serious consequences for taxpayers and for Basin communities. Their report has 28 short term recommendations and 10 medium term recommendations aimed at various governments and the MDBA. Many of these centre around the need to ensure that all elements of the Basin Plan are implemented, not just the elements which reduce the amount of water to be returned to Basin rivers.

There is also a warning that 26 Water Resources Plans, crucial to managing water in sub-catchments and due in June 2019, are running late and will need more time and more scrutiny to ensure that they are sound.

One of the most serious recommendations from both reports is that the functions of the MDBA should be split, to separate the implementation functions from the compliance functions, so the MDBA will not in effect be ‘marking its own work’.

The primary finding of the SA Royal Commission is that not enough water is being recovered to ‘restore and protect degraded key environmental assets and ecosystem functions’. The Commissioner is particularly concerned that the water recovery target did not have sufficient regard to the science. He is also particularly concerned that the effects of climate change in reducing future water availability should be included immediately. He goes so far as to recommend that all the current numbers should be scrapped and re-calculated to give a more realistic target for water recovery which could deliver the environmental targets in the Plan.

Among the many questions asked by the audience, the most telling was ‘how will the rivers die?’ A major concern in the two reviews is that the risk of not implementing the Plan in full as intended, with flow constraints removed and extra flows right through the system to the Murray Mouth and Coorong, that risk is not being described and included in decision-making and communications to the community.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan only as good as its implementation. Changes need to be made to ensure timely effective delivery of all elements of the Plan. We need to return enough real water to support river ecosystems. We need to ensure all-state compliance and independent real-time monitoring as we go, with re-sets along the way. We need to protect environmental flows and we can’t wait until 2024 to check if the Plan is on track.

Implementing the Productivity Commission and SA Royal Commission recommendations would be a good start!! The first task for all concerned citizens is to share this information and let their political representatives know that getting the Basin Plan right is a top priority for them. The fish kills should be ringing alarm bells everywhere!!

Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, community engagement, ecosystem services, environmental flows, Healthy Rivers Ambassadors, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, sustainable natural resources management, water conservation, water issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

World Wetlands Day not so happy for Murray-Darling Basin wetlands

On World Wetlands Day, instead of celebrating the priceless environmental services provided by the wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin, politicians and water managers are playing the blame-shifting game over the final report from the SA Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The key message from that report, apart from all the legal details, is that not enough water has been recovered to keep the rivers of the Basin healthy enough to support Basin communities and their irrigation businesses into the future. This was the primary aim of the Basin Plan, and alarm bells should be ringing, instead of key players blaming anyone else but themselves.

The appalling pictures of disastrous mass fish deaths tell the story, that the Basin Plan has not secured minimum flows for the Lower Darling River, its human communities and its native fish populations. Not only that, these fish populations are critical to the survival of Murray cod and callop populations in other rivers of the Basin, including the Lower Murray, the Upper Murray and the Murrumbidgee.

The wetlands of the Basin are reported as shrinking, with the Macquarie Marshes reduced by two-thirds of its area since the early 1990s. Between 1993 and 2008, 85% of red gums died on the Booligal wetlands near Hay due to the effects of 10 large dams and 323 weirs reducing flows in the Lachland River at Booligal by 50%, as well as changing timing and duration of flows.

Wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin need enough water to survive and support river health. However, the Basin Plan started out with a compromise water recovery target of 2750 GL, much less than the 4000 GL minimum recommended by science as needed to prevent further decline. As implementation of the Plan progresses and the compromises come into play, it seems that all the compromises which reduce the recovery target are being implemented with enthusiasm, while those which would increase the recovery target are being labelled ‘impossible to deliver’.

The current state of play is approximately 2000 GL recovered, with the real possibility that only 65 GL more will be recovered. The process will continue until 2024, when more water can be recovered only if it is found at that date that the volume of water recovered is inadequate to sustain river health.

Surely the disastrous fish kills in the Lower Darling are already telling us that not enough water has been recovered. We may have lost a whole generation of breeding stock in Murray cod. Who knows if they  can recover from this event, especially if the drought continues and there are no flows to send down to the Lower Darling. If we wait another five years for the Basin Plan projects to come into effect, will there be any fish left?? Will there be sufficient water of good enough quality to support Basin communities and irrigators?

Posted in caring for our planet, ecosystem services, environmental flows, fish, Murray-Darling Basin, river red gums, sustainable natural resources management, water issues, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , ,