Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scientists say the Draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be scrapped

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists have called for the Draft Murray Darling Basin Plan, released last month, to be scrapped

They say the plan should be started afresh. Not throwing out all the work they've done - but they need to completely re-think what the plan is meant to be a plan of (water management, irrigation, environmental flows and so forth). It's not a plan yet and it won't do the job.

This is the next episode in the ongoing sad saga of planning for the Murray Darling Basin.

Previously - Mike Taylor quit as Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, saying the government set impossible expectations that could not be delivered and were not in accordance with the Water Act. He had just released the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan, flagging "a long-term average increase of 7,600 GL/y (would mean) the environmental targets are all met and all catchments improve from their existing status to good flow levels".

The Minister then appointed former NSW Labor MP Craig Knowles as Chair. Shortly afterwards, Wentworth Group of Scientists who were consulting on the plan quit. They said the process itself was flawed and that a decision had already been made that the minimum flows required (4,000 GL/year) would not be met.

Knowles released the draft Basin Plan last month, which only provides for environmental flows of 2,750 GL/year.

The prospects for the Murray Darling have fallen a lot, as shown by:

2010 - Desirable 7600 GL/year
2010 - Probably target 4000 GL/year
2011 - 2750 GL/year - less 2600 GL/year removed from groundwater.

From the Wentworth Group of Scientists:

The draft Plan released for public comment by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on the 28 November 2011 does not provide the most basic information required to allow anybody to make an informed decision on the future management of the water resources of the Basin.
The absence of this information makes it impossible for the community, science or Parliament to understand the implications or have confidence the Plan has any prospect of delivering a healthy working river:
  1. The Plan specifies a volume of water but it does not identify the volume of water required to deliver a healthy working river, as required by the Commonwealth Water Act;
  2. The Plan cites river management infrastructure as the limiting factor however there is no assessment of the feasibility or cost of redesigning river management infrastructure (such as periodically flooding paddocks or raising the height of a bridge) so that a healthy working river can be delivered;
  3. The Plan does not incorporate in the modelling the impact that increasing groundwater extractions by over 2,600GL will have on surface water flows, many of the groundwater systems in the Basin are linked to river systems;
  4. The Plan sets long term diversion limits on the assumption that there is no risk to river health from climate change; and
  5. There is no information presented on the effectiveness of the Plan to cope with long dry periods such as that experienced throughout the Basin during most of the last decade, or deliver the volumes of water required keep the Murray mouth open as a functioning (Ramsar listed) estuary and export the 2,000,000 tonnes of salt accumulating in the river system each year.

Details of their statement can be found here.

We'll probably be into the next drought within the next year or two. What will happen then? I do hope it is not too late for the Coorong and the red gum plains along the Murray.

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