Let the Rivers Run

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald 20th July 2020

The Murray Darling Basin Plan came into effect on June 30, 2019. One year later there is still a shortfall of 46.7 billion litres in water recovery, mainly in the Northern Basin that feeds the Darling River (“Department failed taxpayers with water buyback program”, July 17). The auditor-general report found private deals with irrigators is not the best value for taxpayers. The cheapest, most effective way to get water back into our rivers, to prevent catastrophes like the fish kills in the Darling, is to run voluntary, open tender buyback programs. Combine this approach with targeted investment in regional communities to assist economic diversification and improved services, then everyone wins.

Bev Smiles,

President,

Inland Rivers Network, Pyrmont.

 

Letter to the Editor, Northern Daily Leader: Phil Spark, Tamworth NSW. 8th October 2019

Letter to the Editor, Northern Daily Leader: Phil Spark, Tamworth NSW.

“I agree with Barnaby the government does face annihilation, but not because it hasn’t built dams, rather because it hasn’t acknowledged the climate emergency and is out of touch with people who fear for the future of more frequent and extreme weather events.

People can see that building more dams would be a waste of money, and would only lead to increasing water use and more degradation of river ecosystems.

It is 1950’s thinking that building dams will solve our problems. It is that thinking that got us into this problem; more dams would only be digging us into a deeper hole.

The reason we have a water crisis is because water use is over allocated and there is less of it to go around because the weather is getting hotter and drier. There is not a single drop that is not already committed to providing for agriculture, towns and the environment.

Building dams is not going to make it rain anymore, just further degrade the already dying rivers that are predicted to have a fish armageddon this summer.

The weather we are experiencing is the result of 1 degree of global warming, by some miracle we might halt warming to 1.5 degrees but more likely 2 degrees. The point is this is no natural disaster and we are not going back to normal or average weather conditions for a long time if ever.

This is a new scenario requiring water plans based on the predictions of climate science not based on what is politically acceptable as was the case for Murray Darling plan. The current water crisis clearly demonstrates current use is unsustainable. It is the sign of the end of the era of limitless and unsustainable growth, and a new era requiring innovative ways to keep everyone in a job.

With diminishing water resources comes the potential for increasing conflict. No town or industry can be allowed to increase its water use at the expense of other users; all users will need to do more with less water and work cooperatively to share the limited resource.

The future is going to be very challenging; we need futuristic leaders who up to that challenge and not dinosaurs whose thinking is 50 years out of date, and out of touch with the people who are really worried about climate change.

If they don’t step up the government will face annihilation at the next election.

Govt tight-lipped on ACCC Murray–Darling Basin water report

The Saturday Paper – Margaret Simons 4/7/2020

“When you’ve got 60 or 70 per cent of the activity in that market with prices that are zero or non-commercial, then you know that technically the market isn’t real,” says Loch. “I’ve spent years studying water prices and I came home after reflecting on all this and said to my wife last night, ‘Ask me how much the price of water is’, and when she did, I responded, ‘What do you want it to be?’”….

“Australia leads the world in commodifying water. The Murray–Darling Basin markets were created by a series of reforms from the 1980s and ’90s in which water licences were separated from the ownership of land.” ….

“It’s impossible for ordinary citizens to find out who owns water, or who has made a trade. Trading data is collected by the states, with variations and inconsistencies between jurisdictions, and then is aggregated by the Bureau of Meteorology – which “cleanses” the data, excluding low- and high-priced trades before calculating average water prices.”

Read the Full Article Here

Read the Lifeblood Alliance submission to Murray-Darling Basin water markets inquiry

“Our key concern relates to the water market policy that seeks to appropriately manage the third party hydrological and environmental impacts of changes in the timing and location of water use that arise from water trading activities.

There are a number of legal requirements in regard to protecting the environment from the impacts of water trading. The current increase in water trading to downstream developments in the Murray southern connected Basin is causing significant environmental impacts that are not being adequately addressed.

Under the Commonwealth Water Act 2007 Schedule 3 restrictions to water trading are required when:

  • avoiding environmental impacts.
  • protecting water quality.
  • facing delivery constraints
  • geographical features are being impacted
  • major indigenous, cultural heritage or spiritual significance would be impacted.

Recommendations:

1. Seasonal flow limits must be assigned to rivers at risk similar to the limits on the Barmah Choke.
2. Establish a National Water Trading Exchange to increase transparency and improve capacity to better manage third-party and environmental impacts.
3. Increase Federal responsibility for the alignment of State regulations and polices. Many of the third-party and environmental impacts are the result of, or enhanced by, state divisions and misalignment of policies.

 

 

Lifeblood Alliance consists of environmental, Indigenous and community groups committed to keeping the rivers, wetlands and aquifers of the Murray-Darling Basin healthy for the benefit of current and future generations.

Australian Conservation Foundation, NSW Nature Conservation Council, Conservation Council of South Australia, Environment Victoria, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, River Lakes and Coorong Action Group, Environmental Farmers Network, Inland Rivers Network, National Parks Association of NSW, Goulburn Valley Environment Group, Healthy Rivers Dubbo and Central West Environment Council.

NSW Water Sharing Plans set to fail farmers, communities and the environment

Environmental Defenders Office

The NSW Government is poised to sign off on plans for the Murray-Darling that will lock in inadequate volumes of environmental water for the next decade.

The Water Sharing Plans set out how water in the river system is shared between irrigators, other farmers, communities and the environment. They also put limits on what can be extracted from the rivers and groundwater.

These plans are the most important part of the water reform process. They set in stone rules that govern water sharing for the next 10 years.

EDO lawyers have identified multiple flaws with the proposed Water Sharing Plans, including some which could give rise to legal action by our clients.

Read More

The Guardian New plans for Barwon-Darling river system still prioritise irrigation over environment

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.”

Read Story Here

Legal action looms over water sharing plans

Sydney Morning Herald By Harriet Alexander May 29, 2020

Floodplain graziers and environmental groups are considering legal action against the NSW government if it signs off on controversial water sharing plans, arguing the plans do not adequately take into account the needs of downstream users and the environment.

The Australian Floodplain Association, Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association and Inland Rivers Network have not ruled out litigation in the Land and Environment Court or the Federal Court if the plans are not amended to more evenly share the pain of a drier climate.

Grazier Stuart Le Lievre, who lives on the Darling River between Louth and Tilpa in northwest NSW, said the connectivity of the system meant that unsustainable extraction under one plan had consequences for every catchment.

“The whole essence, which everyone knows, is the bucket of water is nowhere what it used to be,” said Mr Le Lievre, vice president of the Australian Floodplain Association.

“[The northern basin irrigators] haven’t given up anything. They’ve still got all their entitlements. When it gets to the Barwon Darling, what have we got to share?”

Emma Carmody, special counsel for the Environmental Defenders Office, said that if the upper catchments were governed by plans that did not adequately consider the downstream impact of extraction, there may be not be enough water in the system to supply the lower part of the river.

This ran counter to the water sharing principles set out in legislation – that water sources and their dependent ecosystems needed to be protected first and foremost, followed by basic landholder rights. Town water and stock and domestic use also took precedence over irrigation.

Dr Carmody argued in a piece published in the EDO bulletin on Friday that this left the plans open to a challenge in the Land and Environment Court or Federal Court.

“The environment … needs specific volumes of water at specific times to stay alive,” said Dr Carmody, who represents some of the groups considering litigation.

“That’s why mandatory rules in water sharing plans that protect first flows after drought, low flows and all environmental flows from extraction are absolutely vital. There are also legal obligations under both state and commonwealth laws that can only be properly satisfied if these rules are in place.”

Water sharing plans set out how water is divided between irrigators, towns and the environment in each catchment and set limits on what can be extracted from the rivers and groundwater for the next decade.

Water Minister Melinda Pavey wants them signed off by June 30, when the water resource plans that they underpin are due to be submitted to the federal government under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. But the old water sharing plans have not expired and there are calls for the drafts to be amended before they are signed.

Chairman of the Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association Garry Hall was on the stakeholder advisory panel for the Macquarie water sharing plan. He said it was hamstrung by a ministerial requirement that no third party could be adversely affected.

“We couldn’t restrict take, so to me it was just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Mr Hall said.

“The solution was deemed to be out of scope. It was very much influenced by a large representation from the irrigation community.”

NSW Irrigation Council chief executive Luke Simpkins said all the water sharing plans considered downstream users and any legal action was unlikely to be successful.

“People down there say that northern irrigators have got their hands around the neck of the National party MPs and it’s just not true, because otherwise where’s the 100 per cent general security allocations?” Mr Simpkins said.

“It’s just not happening and these conspiracy theories are just a distraction from the main event.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/legal-action-looms-over-water-sharing-plans-20200526-p54wkn.html

Latest drought data not used in new water plans

Sydney Morning Herald

By Harriet Alexander and Peter Hannam

The NSW government will not take into account the latest drought in calculating how much water should be available to irrigators under draft plans condemned by regional councils and a Nationals MP.

While dams that supply some of the state’s biggest towns still hover below 20 per cent capacity, the government is poised to sign off on a water allocation system that backdates the “drought of record” gauge used as far back as 2004.

The NSW upper house passed a motion last week calling on Water Minister Melinda Pavey to amend the plans using up-to-date drought figures before submitting the water resource plans to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for accreditation.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/latest-drought-data-not-used-in-new-water-plans-20200518-p54ty9.html

No drought-proofing from new dams

Media release

12 May 2020

No drought-proofing from new dams

National Party plans to build new dams and expand others will enrich irrigators, degrade river ecosystems and will not protect communities from climate change and drought unless the government changes Water Sharing Plans to reflect our drying climate, environment groups have warned.

“The projects the Nationals outlined today will not provide more water security and drought-proof communities,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian said.

“Bigger dams will just mean more water for irrigation and less for the river and other users.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Water Minister Melinda Pavey announced this week that $245m would be spent building the business case for three dam projects:

  •        raising Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River
  •        building the Dungowan Dam on the Peel River
  •        building a dam on the Mole River near Tenterfield

The Nationals claim the dams will store water that can sustain communities during dry spells,[1] but water allocations from dams in these river systems will not be based on the most recent drought.[2]

“Time and again, the Nationals have shown their water policy is to provide maximum water to the irrigation industry,” Mr Gambian said.

“This is reflected in the new Water Sharing Plans, due to commence on 1 July, 2020. Bigger dams will mean more water taken from our river systems, not more water stored for drought protection.”

Inland Rivers Network President Bev Smiles said: “The new Water Sharing Plans do not use the most recent drought of record and were bound to over-estimate the volume of water available for irrigation.

“For the Lachlan River, the lowest inflows on record are based on those before July 2004. The Millenium Drought and the current more severe drought are being ignored.”

This issue was confirmed by Water Minister Pavey in Parliament last November where she said:

To include a rule that automatically requires the water supply system to adjust to new record drought would potentially result in significant quantities of water being locked away from productive use.” [3]

 

“The new Water Sharing Plans will cause the same problems to arise with each new drought,” Ms Smiles said.

“In 2016, all NSW dams were full. By the end of 2018 they were empty because all the water had been handed out, not stored for drought protection.

“This is what will happen again with these new projects if we don’t change the Water Sharing Plans to reflect the scarcity of water in our drying climate.

“The Water Sharing Plans need to be changed so the most recent drought is considered when making annual water allocations.

“We don’t need more, bigger dams. We need water sharing rules that provide water security for severe drought conditions.”

MEDIA CONTACT: James Tremain | 0419 272 254

 BACKGROUND TO WATER SHARING PLAN RULES

 Wyangala Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the Lachlan Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 4 General System Operations Rules

58 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2004.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source,

 Dungowan Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the Peel Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 2 General System Operations Rules

52 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2010.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source

Mole River Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Border Rivers Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 3 General System Operations Rules

57 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2009.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source

[1] Media Release Deputy Premier and Water Minister, 10 May 2020, STAGE 1 BEGINS ON STATE SIGNIFICANT DAMS

[2] See attached briefer: Water Sharing Plan rules are not based on the most recent lowest inflows on record

[3] https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/HansardFull.aspx#/DateDisplay/HANSARD-1820781676-80754/HANSARD-1820781676-80801

 

 

More questions raised about Macquarie River re-regulating storage project

Daily Liberal IRN letter 6/5/2020

Inland Rivers Network wrote to Dubbo’s Daily Liberal newspaper about a proposed re regulating weir between Narromine and Warren on the Wambuul Macquarie River. The letter was in response to a piece submitted by outgoing WaterNSW CEO David Harris published by the paper.

Far from assuring the public that environmental concerns will be addressed during the planning process, WaterNSW raised more questions than they answered.

Daily Liberal WaterNSW letter 1/5/2020

Support the campaign by signing the petition to Stop the Macquarie River re regulating weir

Lower Darling flows reach isolated NSW town of Pooncarie….

ABC Mildura, 11th April 2020

By Leonie Thorne, Cherie von Hörchner and Christopher Testa

The first flows down the Lower Darling in 18 months are fast approaching the river’s junction with the Murray, and will soon join the river end to end for the first time in more than a year.

It had brought a sense of relief to communities that were also in their second year of drought.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-11/lower-darling-flows-hit-pooncarie-first-time-in-18-months/12137306