Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts

Thursday, 16 May 2019

First global assessment of the ecological health of the world's "wild" rivers has found only about one third of the longest rivers are still free-flowing


As the Queensland flood waters finally make it down the Dimantina and Georgina rivers and Cooper's Creek and spread out over the Eyre Basin and into Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, it is well to remember three things.

The first is that; The Lake Eyre Basin is one of the largest and most pristine desert river systems on the planet, supporting 60,000 people and a wealth of wildlife.

The second is the fact that the Morrison Government has a stated policy to dam and divert more water from Australia's river systems if it is re-elected. 

The third is that water sustainability into the future is dependent on wild rivers running free.

ABC Radio,“RN”, 9 May 2019:

The first global assessment of the ecological health of the world's "wild" rivers has found only about one third of the longest rivers are still free-flowing.

The report warns the disruption is harming ecosystems, with 3,700 new large dams either under construction, or planned.


Nature, 8 May 2019:

Gill,Gunter et al, (2019) Mapping the world’s free-flowing rivers

ABSTRACT

Free-flowing rivers (FFRs) support diverse, complex and dynamic ecosystems globally, providing important societal and economic services. Infrastructure development threatens the ecosystem processes, biodiversity and services that these rivers support. Here we assess the connectivity status of 12 million kilometres of rivers globally and identify those that remain free-flowing in their entire length. Only 37 per cent of rivers longer than 1,000 kilometres remain free-flowing over their entire length and 23 per cent flow uninterrupted to the ocean. Very long FFRs are largely restricted to remote regions of the Arctic and of the Amazon and Congo basins. In densely populated areas only few very long rivers remain free-flowing, such as the Irrawaddy and Salween. Dams and reservoirs and their up- and downstream propagation of fragmentation and flow regulation are the leading contributors to the loss of river connectivity. By applying a new method to quantify riverine connectivity and map FFRs, we provide a foundation for concerted global and national strategies to maintain or restore them.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

The Trouble with Water: National Party conflicts of interest and the rising odour of corruption



The Saturday Paper, 27 April 2019:

Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty is examining links between political donations and the issuing and buyback of agricultural water licences, amid concerns that undeclared conflicts of interest could be fuelling corruption.

Keelty told The Saturday Paper this week he is concerned about the extent of undeclared conflicts of interest among politicians, lobby groups and businesses operating in the water market.

“I’m interested to see how conflicted politicians are declaring their conflicts of interest when decisions are made about water policy,” he said.

“Where you get those conflicts of interest and they’re not addressed, that’s ripe for corruption.”

His comments come as the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder confirmed to The Saturday Paper that two contentious water licences for which the federal government paid $79 million have returned next to no water to the environment since they were purchased two years ago.

Keelty is conducting inquiries in his capacity as the Northern Basin commissioner for the Murray–Darling Basin, a position to which the federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, appointed him in August last year with the support of the Labor opposition.

On the issue of water licences, he draws a direct comparison with the management of development applications by local government, where conflicts of interest are required to be declared.

“We’re not seeing it in water, and it should be there,” he said.

Keelty, who was also the inaugural chair of the Australian Crime Commission, is not categorical about what exposing such conflicts might reveal, though he suggests they are widespread.

“I’m not saying it’s corruption; I’m saying it’s conflict of interest,” he said. “But you could draw a conclusion that if conflicts of interest aren’t transparent, it could lead to corruption … Water is now the value of gold. If you have corruption in other elements of society, if you have corruption in other areas of business, why wouldn’t you have it here, when water is the same price as gold?”

“IT IS NOT AS TRANSPARENT AS I FIRST THOUGHT AND IT IS MUDDIED BY IN-KIND DONATIONS AND THIRD-PARTY COMPANIES OR ENTITIES THAT ARE CREATED TO OBSCURE WHO THE REAL DONORS ARE.”

Over the past decade, Keelty has undertaken inquiries and investigations for various governments on issues relating to integrity in government policy, especially in emergency management.

Now turning his attention to the struggling river system, he is aiming to improve transparency in the management of the northern Murray–Darling Basin, which has a far worse compliance record than the river system’s southern half.

His task is to ensure that water gets back to the river system where it is needed and that those who rely on this water, and should have rights for its use, are not being ripped off, especially disenfranchised Indigenous communities and others living downstream.

Keelty argues that excessive numbers of water licences have been issued – sometimes on questionable grounds – and are seriously damaging the river.

“When you look at it strategically, there are too many licences having been allocated for the amount of water that is available,” he told The Saturday Paper.

“Nobody is addressing that, that I can see.”

Keelty also believes the system is too dependent on property owners acting within the law and reporting their own activities.

“The system relies on honesty and integrity but if you look at the number of prosecutions and infringement notices issued in New South Wales in the last 12 months, the pillar of honesty doesn’t appear to be that strong,” he said.

“I can understand the suspicion and the frustration in the southern basin states because they are directly impacted by the efficiency of the systems in the northern basin.”

Keelty is currently examining the Australian Electoral Commission records of political donations, checking links between donors, decision-makers and recipients of water licences or sales contracts.

“Clearly the National Party is probably, I guess, a glaring example of where politicians could be conflicted because their constituency are the very people who are using the water and the very people who are lobbying about water policy,” he said.

But he is examining links to other parties as well. “It’s not just the National Party. Different governments will make decisions about water policy that presumably benefit their state and their constituents.”

Keelty has concerns about the system of political donations more broadly.

“It is not as transparent as I first thought and it is muddied by in-kind donations and third-party companies or entities that are created to obscure who the real donors are,” he said. “I’ve found it more difficult and less transparent than what most of us probably think it is.”

The former police chief is also arguing for proceeds-of-crime legislation to be more clearly linked to offences in the water market because he believes the risk of losing a farming property would be a significant deterrent.

“Where you can prosecute criminal charges for offending, it makes sense to have parallel action in proceeds of crime because that will have more of an impact than perhaps some of the civil charges that are being used to remedy the situation to date,” he said.

Read the full article here

Sunday, 10 March 2019

More fish kills predicted along the Darling/Barka River



Residents at Menindee are bracing for a fourth mass fish kill in the Darling River in about three months, as a new paper finds water savings in the Murray Darling Basin may be just one-tenth the amount modelled.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has warned the arrival of a cold front after another heatwave in the region this week posed a "high risk" of another bout of widespread fish deaths.

Possibly millions of fish, mostly bony herring but also endangered perch and Murray cod, were killed in the three previous events. A sudden drop in dissolved oxygen levels - as blue-green algae died and began decaying - was the prompt for the previous fish kills.

"They're super-stressed. It takes less [to kill the fish]," Graeme McCrabb, a Menindee resident, said on Tuesday. "The numbers of golden and silver perch and the cods got less [during each die-off]."

Separately, a report published in the Australasian Journal of Water Resources by John Williams and Quentin Grafton from the Australian National University found the $3.5 billion spent on water-saving infrastructure - such as concrete canals - may have saved 70 billion litres a year compared with the federal government's estimate of more than 10 times that figure.

Professor Grafton said their analysis showed the average cost of water recovery could be as much as $50,000 per megalitre returned to the Murray-Darling Basin every year, or about 25 times more expensive than buying the water back from willing sellers.

The key issue is the failure to measure and account for so-called return flows - the leakage of water into aquifer that ceases when irrigation becomes more efficient.

"It's a travesty for all Australians," he said. "You've spent billions of dollars and you've not measured what you've got."….

Thursday, 14 February 2019

How the National Party of Australia attempted to ruin Australia’s largest river system


IMAGE: Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Ltd.

Former Accountant and banker, Nationals MP for New England (NSW) Barnaby Thomas Gerard Joyce was deputy Prime Minister of Australia from 18.2.2016 to 27.10.2017 and again from 6.12.2017 to 26.2.2018
.  He was also Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources from 21.9.2015 to 27.10.2017 and returned as minister once more from 21.9.2015 to 27.10.2017.

This particular politician is likely to go down in history as one of the worst leaders that the National Party of Australia ever had.

The Northern Daily Leader, 9 February 2019:

BARNABY Joyce’s actions as water minister have been singled out and savaged in the royal commission into the Murray Darling Basin Authority, the report suggesting he ignored the law.

The report pointed to an “ill-informed letter” from Mr Joyce to the South Australian water minister, as testament to the government’s lack of “any genuine commitment” to the goal of recovering 450 gigalitres of water for the environment.

The Leader has contacted Mr Joyce for an interview and is awaiting a response.
In the letter, Mr Joyce said he couldn’t see the water being recovered without “causing negative social and economic impacts to South Australian communities”.

“I cannot foresee [the other state governments] agreeing that the additional 450GL of water can be delivered without significant social and economic detriment,” he wrote.

The report said there was “no reliable evidence” to support Mr Joyce’s claim.

This is what the South Australian  Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission Report’s  Final Report (released on 29 January 2019) stated in part:

For a number of years neither the Commonwealth Government, nor New South Wales or Victoria, have had any genuine commitment to recovering the so-called 450 GL of upwater for enhanced environmental outcomes. The ill-informed letter from Mr Barnaby Joyce when he was Water Minister to his South Australian counterpart dated 17 November 2016 — written as though the actual definition of socio-economic impact in the Basin Plan did not exist — is testament to this…..

On commercial radio on 29 August 2018, Mr Joyce, the Commonwealth Government’s Special Drought Envoy — not a member of the Executive Council or a Minister of the State under either secs 62 or 64 of the Constitution respectively — suggested that environmental water held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) should be used to ‘grow the fodder to keep the cattle alive’ during the course of the drought. He suggested that if this was not lawful, then the relevant legislation should be changed. This suggestion is not in the interests of the people who live and work in the Basin, nor in the interests of the broader Australian public, or that of the environment. It is contrary to the objects and purposes of the Water Act and Basin Plan. It is against the national interest. It has been rightly rejected by, amongst others, the MDBA and the CEWH. Adaptation to the challenges of a warmer and drier climate will require a vastly more sophisticated approach. That approach must be based on proper scientific research and analysis, as well as a basic level of common sense.

For example, in a letter dated 17 November 2016 from the then Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture and Water, Mr Barnaby Joyce, to the then South Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Mr Ian Hunter, Minister Joyce said:
 If it was genuinely possible to put an additional 450 GL down the river without hurting people, then none of us would have a problem with it. The reality is that it will. South Australia’s default share of the 450 GL target is 36 GL. Does the South Australian Government have a plan for where this water would come from without causing negative social and economic impacts to South Australian communities? I believe that we are heading into an unprotracted (sic) and unsolvable stalemate, where the funding will stay on the books for a recovery that will be impossible to make in accordance with the legislative requirements — that the recovery must has (sic) positive or neutral social and economic outcomes
… My main concern is this — just as you have an understandable desire for one outcome, your colleagues in other states have an equally understandable desire for another regardless of what side of the political fence they are on. I cannot foresee them agreeing that the additional 450 GL of water can be delivered without significant social and economic detriment. The hard conversation has to happen about how we resolve this stalemate. I look forward to discussing it with you more at the Ministerial Council.

There is no reliable evidence before the Commission that would support the assertion in that letter that recovery of an additional 450 GL of water would have negative social and economic impacts, or that its consequence would be ‘hurting people’ either economically, socially, or otherwise. Minister Joyce offered no such evidence. Leaving that aside, Minister Joyce’s letter ignores the test of social and economic neutrality in sec 7.17(2)(b) of the Basin Plan. That is no trifling thing, as that section was (and still currently is) the law. The test is satisfied by participation, not the concept of ‘hurting people’. Leaving this also aside, the gist of the letter was such that the Commonwealth’s then position seemed to be that the recovery of 450 GL of upwater for South Australia’s environmental assets was unlikely….

Mr Hooper spoke of a shift in attitude, upon the appointment of the former Minister, Mr Barnaby Joyce, to the water portfolio, away from a holistic, whole of Basin approach to a focus on specific sites, namely Dirranbandi, St George, and Warren, and the economics of irrigated agriculture in those towns.

Mr Hooper recalled asking the MDBA for a socio-economic assessment of Aboriginal people in the Northern Basin to which the MDBA responded by offering to provide a more limited socio-cultural survey.182 Despite meeting with the MDBA, NBAN was unaware of the intention to reduce water recovery in the Northern Basin, which was only revealed once the proposed amendments were publicly released.183 Mr Hooper could not recall any explanation of how the toolkit measures could substitute for water so as to justify the 70 GL reduction in water to be recovered…..

In an interview with 2GB radio, the Commonwealth Government’s Special Drought Envoy and former Water Resources Minister, Mr Barnaby Joyce, said:

a national emergency requires emergency power. We have a large water resource owned by the government. It’s called the Commonwealth Environmental Water holder and it’s used to water environmental assets. In a national emergency, which is this drought, surely that water should be used to grow the fodder to keep the cattle alive to keep the cash flow in the town. When people say, ‘Oh well, the legislation won’t allow you to do that’. Well, change the legislation, that’s what we have a parliament for.

National Party once again proving that it is the party representing mining interests

Climate change denialism is alive and well in the National Party.....

The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2019:

A Nationals MP's claim that the Land and Environment Court's decision to block a coal mine in his electorate reflected an "ideological position" and "smacked of judicial activism" has prompted a rival MP to accuse him of contempt of court.

After the court on Friday rejected Gloucester Resources' bid to open the Rocky Hill mine on the Mid North Coast because of "climate change impacts", Nationals MP for the Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen hopped on 2GB to vent his fury.

The show's host Chris Kenny said: "Here you have a judge in a NSW land and environment court saying that he's protecting the planet from global warming, from climate change".

Mr Johnsen replied: "They are taking an ideological position, again it smacks of judicial activism, and it has nothing to do with the merits of the proposal itself and I’m very, very disappointed."

Friday, 1 February 2019

Murray-Darling Basin Commission Report Précis: hard right ideology, ignorance, politics and greed have all but killed the largest river system in Australia


The Guardian, 29 January 2019: The fish kill near Menindee in NSW on Monday left the Darling River carpeted in dead fish. A South Australian royal commission is likely to find the Murray Darling Basin Plan to be in breach of the federal Water Act. Photograph: Graeme McCrabb

ABC News, 30 January 2019:

The Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission has found Commonwealth officials committed gross maladministration, negligence and unlawful actions in drawing up the multi-billion-dollar deal to save Australia's largest river system.

Commissioner Bret Walker SC recommended a complete overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including reallocating more water from irrigation to the environment.

The report found the original plan ignored potentially "catastrophic" risks of climate change….

Commissioner Walker accused the original architects of the multi-billion-dollar plan of being influenced by politics, with the report finding "politics rather than science" drove the setting of the "Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) and the recovery figure of 2,750 GL".

"The [water] recovery amount had to start with a 'two'," he said.

"This was not a scientific determination, but one made by senior management and the board of the MDBA……


Triple bottom line myth

The most pernicious of the polemical uses to which the slogan of the triple bottom line has been turned is to argue, in various forums and with varying approaches to frankness, that the triple bottom line requires the volume of reduction in consumptive take (sometimes called the water to be ‘recovered’, ie for the environment) somehow to be less than it would be on solely the environmental grounds stipulated in the Water Act, whenever it can be seen that recovering less would benefit farming, therefore the economy and therefore society. It is, admittedly, hard not to travesty the argument, so bereft as it is of a serious purposive reading of the actual enacted text.

No-one, in or out of this Commission, has explained how this triple bottom line is meant to work, directed as it must be to a numerically designated ‘limit’ of take. If all three dimensions are operating equally and simultaneously, as the slogan and the statutory term ‘optimises’ might at first sight suggest, how does a statutory decision-maker adjust — up or down — the recovery target by reference to each of the three dimensions? They are, at least partially, incommensurables. And what is the real difference, when it comes to irrigated agriculture, between economic and social outcomes? How far does one project in order to assess the best available outcomes?

None of these imponderable puzzles exists on the plain reading of the Water Act, by which the environmental threshold level (no ‘compromise’ of key environmental values) is set — and then as much irrigation water as can sensibly be made available is made available, in order to optimise the economic and social outcomes generated by the continuation of modern and efficient irrigated agriculture. Of course, from time to time, not least because of the inter-generational ecologically sustainable development principles, social outcomes — and even economic outcomes — may well come to be seen as mandating less rather than more (or the same) volume of consumptive take. But the true, single, bottom line is that no more water may be taken than at the level beyond which the key environmental values would be compromised.

The late Professor John Briscoe, whose distinguished career culminated at Harvard, was a doyen of international water resources management studies. His insights and eminence were acknowledged by, among many other weighty assignments around the world, his selection to play a leading role in the 2010 High-Level External Review Panel convened by the MDBA to scrutinize and critique the beleaguered draft Guide to the proposed Basin Plan (Guide) (see Chapter 4). In 2011, he corresponded with the Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which has published his notable letter dated 24 February 2011, by way of a submission by him to the Committee’s inquiry into provisions of the Water Act. The whole letter is instructive, as might be expected. The following extracts pungently address the triple bottom line myth, expressing conclusions which command agreement. (As opposed to some other conclusions expressed in his letter, where Professor Briscoe is arguably too pessimistic, concerning in particular the aptness of the Water Act itself. 
The letter, to repeat, deserves re-reading.)

The substance of the Act 2: Balance between the environment and human uses

There are claims that the Water Act of 2007 was not an environmental act but one that mandated balance between the environment and human uses. Digging deep into the turgid 236 pages of the Water Act for confirmatory phrases, the Honorable Malcolm Turnbull claims, now, that the Act was all about balance.

To a disinterested reader this is poppycock. The National Productivity Commission’s interpretation of the Water Act (2007) is that “it requires the Murray-Darling basin Authority to determine environmental water needs based on scientific information, but precludes consideration of economic and social costs in deciding the extent to which these needs should be met”. Similarly, the High-Level Review Panel for the Murray Darling Basin Plan (of which I was a member) stated that “The driving value of the Act is that a triple-bottom-line approach (environment, economic, social) is replaced by one in which environment becomes the overriding objective, with the social and economic spheres required to “do the best they can” with whatever is left once environmental needs are addressed.”

This interpretation was also very clearly (and reasonably, in my view) the interpretation taken by the Board and Management of the MDBA in developing the Guide to the Basin Plan. This was transmitted unambiguously to the members of the High-Level Review Panel for the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

(As an aside, I have wondered whether this logic is derived from (a) a belief that this is the right thing to do or (b) an understanding that this was the only constitutionally-defensible approach given that state powers were being abrogated in the name of meeting the Commonwealth’s Ramsar obligations.)

The substance of the Act 3: The roles of science and politics

The Act is based on an extraordinary logic, namely that science will determine what the environment needs and that the task for government (including the MDBA) is then just to “do what science tells it to do”. 

In the deliberations of the High Level Review Panel, we pointed out that, taken literally, this would mean that 100% of the flows of the Basin would have to go to the environment, because the native environment had arisen before man started developing the basin. The absurdity of this point was to drive home the reality — that the Murray is one of the most heavily plumbed river basins in the world, and that the real choice was to decide which set of managed (not natural) environmental (and other) outcomes were most desirable.

The job of science in such an instance is to map out options, indicating clearly the enormous uncertainties that underlie any scenario linking water and environmental outcomes. In its final report, the High-Level Review Panel stated: 

Far from being “value neutral”, a set of value judgements are fundamental to the aspirations of all Acts, including the Water Act. … It is a fundamental tenet of good governance that the scientists produce facts and the government decides on values and makes choices. We are concerned that scientists in the MDBA, who are working to develop “the facts”, may feel that they are expected to trim those so that “the sustainable diversion limit” will be one that is politically acceptable. We strongly believe that this is not only inconsistent with the basic tenets of good governance, but that it is not consistent with the letter of the Act. We equally strongly believe that government needs to make the necessary tradeoffs and value judgements, and needs to be explicit about these, assume responsibility and make the rationale behind these judgements transparent to the public.

A basis in science The crucial steps of setting a SDL, which governs its localized component parts, and observing its mandatory reflection of the ESLT, are among the most important decisions called for by the Water Act. They are forbidden to be politically dictated, say, by Ministerial directions (eg para 48(5)(b)). Their nature is ‘factual or scientific’, and so they are to be addressed as the Water Act requires for such matters.

That is, both the MDBA and the Minister, who between them are statutorily responsible for making the Basin Plan, ‘must … act on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge’ (para 21(4)(b)). As appears throughout this report, this is a serious and fundamental requirement that it appears has most regrettably not been consistently obeyed (see Chapters 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10). It is most certainly not some obscure technical point that could excite only administrative lawyers.
To the contrary, the invocation of science, with the strong epithet ‘best’ to qualify it, brings in its train the demanding and self-critical traditions of empirical enquiry. It definitionally recognizes the provisional and improvable quality of the state of art. It proceeds by testing, and thus needs exposure and debate. Above all, it shuns the ipse dixit of unexplained, unattributed, blank assertions, such as too often emanate at crucial junctures from the MDBA.6 Perhaps the MDBA was not entirely responsible for this ‘aberration’, as Professor Briscoe described it in his letter to the Senate Committee. He suggested it resulted from the ‘institutional power concentration’ created by the Water Act.

Leaving blame aside, it can be readily accepted that Professor Briscoe described in 2011 what he had experienced, and what has continued far too much and for far too long. That is, the highly secretive ‘we will run the numbers and the science behind closed doors and then tell you the result’ MDBA Basin Plan process that Professor Briscoe scorned as ‘the Commonwealth-bureaucrats-and-scientists-know-better-than-states-andcommunities-and-farmers-do model’. He deplored the excessive MDBA ‘confidentiality’ process, which meant ‘there was very little recourse in the process to the immense worldleading knowledge of water management that had developed in Australia during the last 20 years’. He wrote, ‘time and again I heard from professionals, community leaders, farmers and State politicians who had made Australia the widely acknowledged world leaders in arid zone water management that they were excluded from the process’……. [my yellow highlighting]

Recommendations

1. New determinations of the ESLTs, and SDLs for both surface water and groundwater that reflect those ESLTs, should be carried out promptly. Those determinations must be made lawfully — that is, according to the proper construction of the Water Act as outlined in Chapter 3. Those determinations must:

a. be made on the basis of a proper construction of the Water Act, rather than using a triple bottom line approach

b. ensure that each water resource area’s ESLT is correctly determined based on the best available science, including for floodplains, and accordingly is reflected in the Basin-wide ESLT

c. result in an ESLT that ensures Australia fulfils its obligations under the treaties referred to in the Water Act

d. ensure there is no ‘compromise’ to the key environmental assets and ecosystem functions of the Basin — it must restore and protect those that are degraded

e. be made on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, and by taking into account ESD, including climate change projections

f. be made in such a manner that all of the processes, decision-making and modelling that underpin the determinations are fully disclosed and subject to scientific peer-review and consultation with the broader public.

2. Those determinations will require a greater recovery amount than that which has already been recovered. In order to achieve a higher recovery amount, additional water will need to be purchased by the government and held by the CEWH. That water should be purchased through buybacks.

 3. The MDBA — or some other appropriately funded body — should be required to urgently conduct a review of climate change risks to the whole of the Basin, based on the best available scientific knowledge. This should be incorporated into the determination of the ESLT. 4. A Commonwealth Climate Change Research and Adaptation Authority should be established. This Authority must be independent of government. It should be appropriately funded so that it can properly conduct research into climate change, and formulate plans and give guidance on how the Basin (and other) communities can best adapt to climate change.

There are 44 recommendations in the Commissioner’s report in total and the full report cane be read here.

BACKGROUND

Hard right ideology, ignorance, politics and the greed of irrigators on display over the years.

The Courier, 15 December 2011:

Opposition Leader [and Liberal MP for Warringah] Tony Abbott has given his strongest indication yet he will block the Labor government's Murray Darling Basin plan, telling a rowdy meeting of irrigators near Griffith the Coalition would "not support a bad plan"…...
The meeting, for which most businesses in Griffith shut down for the morning so workers could attend, was the fourth public consultation meeting for the Murray Darling plan, which aims to return water from irrigation back to the ailing river system to boost its environmental health….
The scale of irrigators' anger was made clear by a string of speakers who said towns such as Griffith would be battered by the basin authority's plan to return 2750 gigalitres of water to the river system from irrigators.

 Farm Online, 2 November 2012:

NATIONALS Riverina MP Michael McCormack [now Deputy Prime Minister of Australia] says he's prepared to cross the floor and vote against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan if it takes away 2750 gigalitres from primary production for environmental purposes.
Rural communities and farming stakeholder groups have demanded a final Basin Plan that balances economic and social outcomes in equal consideration with environmental concerns….
"I won't be voting in favour of 2750GL coming out of the (Murray-Darling Basin) system, given the amount of water that's already been bought out of the system.
"I won't be abstaining - I'll be voting against it."

The Guardian, 27 July 2017:

Barnaby Joyce [Nationals MP for New England and then Deputy Prime Minister] has told a pub in a Victorian irrigation district that the Four Corners program which raised allegations of water theft was about taking more water from irrigators and shutting down towns.
The deputy prime minister, agriculture and water minister told a gathering at a Hotel Australia in Shepparton that he had given water back to agriculture through the Murray Darling Basin plan so the “greenies were not running the show”. 
“We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask,” he said in comments reported by the ABC.
 “A couple of nights ago on Four Corners, you know what that’s all about? It’s about them trying to take more water off you, trying to create a calamity. A calamity for which the solution is to take more water off you, shut more of your towns down.”


Winter rainfall and streamflow in the southern Basin have declined since the mid-1990s and the Basin has warmed by around a degree since 1910. The Basin is likely to experience significant changes in water availability due to human-caused climate change, particularly in the southern Basin where annual rainfall is projected to change by -11 to +5% by 2030. Any reduction in precipitation is likely to have significant impacts on water flows in rivers, in some cases driving a threefold reduction in runoff, with implications for water recovery under the Basin Plan.

Farm Online, 27 November 2017:

PRIME Minister [and then Liberal MP for Wentworth] Malcolm Turnbull says the SA government’s Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan is picking an “expensive fight” with the federal government and upstream Basin States while examining ground that’s already been “very well tilled”.
Mr Turnbull - the acting Agriculture and Water Resources Minister in Barnaby Joyce’s absence - spoke to media yesterday after SA Premier Jay Weatherill and the state’s Water Minister Ian Hunter revealed they would forge ahead with the Commission inquiry into water monitoring and compliance issues in the $13 billion Basin Plan.


News.com.au, 8 March 2018:

A MAJOR cotton grower is among five people charged for allegedly stealing water from the Murray-Darling Basin.
Prominent irrigator Peter Harris and his wife Jane Harris, who farm cotton in NSW’s north-west have been accused of taking water when the flow did not permit it and breaching licence conditions.
WaterNSW on Thursday said it had begun prosecutions after investigating water management rule breaches.
Three other members of a prominent family have also been accused of theft.
WaterNSW alleges Anthony Barlow, Frederick Barlow and Margaret Barlow were pumping during an embargo and pumping while metering equipment was not working.
The maximum penalty for each of the offences is $247,500.
The prosecutions were announced only moments before the NSW Ombudsman released a damning report saying the WaterNSW had provided the government with incorrect figures on enforcement actions.
In a special report, the NSW Ombudsman said WaterNSW had wrongly claimed to have issued 105 penalty infringements notices and to have initiated 12 prosecutions between July 2017 and November 2017. In fact, no prosecutions had begun nor penalty notices issued during the period.

The Weekly Times, 19 December 2018:

Cohuna irrigator Max Fehring said a push to recover another 450GL would simply mean having to shut down some irrigation areas.
“The environment push is out of control, with no connection to the community impacts,” Mr Fehring said. “You just can’t keep taking water.”
Finley irrigator Waander van Beek said draining water from the Riverina had reduced the reliability of supply from about 85 per cent down to 55 per cent.
Mr van Beek’s wife, Pam, said the district’s irrigators were also angered to see their South Australian colleagues gaining 100 per cent of their allocations, while they got nothing in NSW.
Others were angered by what they see as a waste of water flowing down the Murray to fill South Australia’s Lower Lakes.

ABC News, 29 January 2019:

Recent fish kills in western New South Wales have put Australia's Murray-Darling Basin Planback in the headlines.

However, it has been at the forefront of some of Australia's top legal minds for the past 12 months, with the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission putting it under the microscope.......

What is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

Management of Australia's biggest water resource has been contentious since before federation.

History was made in 2012, when Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia signed up to the national plan, but it remains controversial.

Some believe it does not provide enough flows to protect the environment, while communities dependent on irrigation say it threatens their economic future.
Why did SA decide to hold a royal commission?

In 2017, an ABC Four Corners investigation uncovered irrigators in New South Wales were taking billions of litres of water earmarked for the environment.

A subsequent report found poor levels of enforcement and a lack of transparency surrounding water management in New South Wales and Queensland.
That sparked outcry in South Australia, at the very end of the system and often the first place to feel the impact of low water flows.

Then premier Jay Weatherill said the report did not go far enough, and needed more detailed findings about individuals who had committed water theft.

He announced the Labor government would launch a royal commission.

Key players didn't give evidence

The SA Government came out swinging with its royal commission, but it didn't take long for it to beencumbered.


That included Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) staff, who are responsible for implementing the plan.

The Federal Government argued it was a longstanding legal precedent that state-based royal commissions did not have the power to compel federal witnesses.

Evidence of mismanagement and fraud revealed

While the royal commission could not hear evidence from current MDBA staff, it did hear from some former senior employees.

They included David Bell, who at one stage was responsible for setting an environmentally-sustainable level of water extraction.

He told the inquiry the amount of water set aside for the environment became a political decision, rather than a scientific one.

The 2010 'Guide to the proposed Basin Plan' recommended 6,900 gigalitres of water would need to be returned to the system for there to be a 'low uncertainty' of achieving environmental outcomes.

In the final 2012 plan, 2,750 gigalitres were allocated.

It also heard from Dr Matt Colloff, a now retired CSIRO scientist who was part of a team that worked on a report into the plan.


In his closing submission to the royal commission, counsel assisting Richard Beasley SC said that by taking social and economic factors into consideration when setting environmental flows, the MDBA had erred.

"The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has misinterpreted the Water Act, not in a minor way, not in an unimportant way, in a crucial way," he said.

"That's not only error, or worse than error, it's a massive one with regrettable consequences for the lawfulness of that part of the Basin Plan."
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