Clouds become water entitlements in ad hoc river plan, paper finds

Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hannam 6/2/2020

Billions of dollars in water licences and infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin hinge on complex and opaque rules that vary greatly between rivers, with downstream communities and the environment often losing out.

Those are the findings of researchers from the University of NSW who studied how different rules affected water allocations for irrigators and wetlands on two rivers, the Macquarie and Gwydir.

Human intervention rather than actual water availability played a big role in outcomes, especially in dry periods.

The Macquarie was treated as a “credit” river, with allocations based on historic records of rainfall and run-off into the main Burrendong dam. During the recent drought, the river’s water-sharing plan was suspended.

“The credit rule is essentially allocating clouds – water that hasn’t even fallen in the catchment yet,” said Celine Steinfeld, lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Hydrology, and also a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. “It was clear that water in the Macquarie had been overallocated.”

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