Sunday, July 26, 2009

A bit of background for our foreign readers

South Australia has only one significant river, the Murray, which actually begins in the Snowy Mountains, also known as the Australian Alps.  This page in Wikipedia is pretty accurate so click here for more information.

The issue for South Australia is that most of the rainfall in South Australia doesn't run off into the Murray in any form.  What this means is that all of the water which we use for irrigation, stock and human needs that we extract from the Murray comes from and through New South Wales and Victoria.

They have the attitude that they have a greater right to keeping that water for their use than South Australia has.  In a purely selfish way they are right but what they are neglecting to consider is that, by over extracting water in their states for their use they are actually killing the lower reaches of the Murray.

I believe that the real issue is that they have no idea of how dry the Murray is after the last lock because the locks themselves keep the water back and, to them, the Murray seems to be just as full of water as normal.

Our Federal Government has made lots of statements about buying water for environmental flows but most of those statements have been degraded by the release of information, reported here which clearly indicates that there is no plan for the water buyback.  The Federal Government and the State Governments have totally failed in everything but giving away large sums of money for no return.

The article in the Australian points out that most of the water they have bought, 182,000 MegaLitres of a total 397,000 MegaLitres or 45% of their total purchases will only be delivered in a 1 in 10 year flood and then only to the wetlands of the Macquarie catchments.  Almost no chance of ever going into the Murray.  Since there is no reason to suspect that they got it right for the remainder (55%) and that any of that will actually result in flows into the Murray either.

The question I now ask myself is "Is this the result of stupidity, ignorance and inexperience or is is more sinister that that and they are deliberately ignoring the real plight of the Murray because 'it's only South Australia'?"

I prefer to think that Kevin Rudd, Penny Wong, Mike Rann, Karlene Maywald and all those in the Labor Governments of NSW & VIC are just plain stupid because the only other possibility is just too depressing.

The other problem occurs when those in power are questioned about their dumb decisions, they attempt to justify stupidity by reframing the originally stated aims like this 

A spokeswoman for federal Water Minister Penny Wong yesterday defended the selections made in the buyback program, citing a landmark CSIRO audit of the basin which rated the Gwydir and Lachlan catchments as in poor and very poor health respectively. 

She said both included wetland sites that were recognised as nationally or internationally important and provided homes for threatened or migratory species. 

"The water acquired through the purchase program will be managed by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and delivered to the sites that deliver the greatest environmental benefits at the time when allocations become available to these entitlements," she said. But as of July 3, the Environmental Water Holder had only 64,000 megalitres at its disposal, about a sixth of the 2008-09 buyback total. Less than 10,000ML are understood to have been returned to the environment last financial year.

Since the lower reaches of the Murray are also Ramsar recognised wetlands and probably more important to the overall health of the Murray than the NSW wetlands that argument is completely specious.

No, the real reason they are buying the water entitlements they are choosing is because they are cheap, they want to be able to make big statements about how much water they have bought regardless of how much will actually flow into the Murray to save it.  This is still only about politics, not saving the Murray.

As I see it the real issue isn't about irrigation, environmental flows or agriculture.  It is just about money.  Have a look at this link and then ask yourself the question "if the Federal Government wasn't paying big bucks for water allocations, that have been given out for free, would any company be setting up an expanded irrigation property "in food production plans that defy predictions of a dire outlook for Murray-Darling irrigation" "?

I don't think so.  Where is a solution coming from?  The answer may lie in the understanding that the water allocations are given to the farmers, not sold.  On that basis I believe the Federal Government doesn't need to buy it back, just take it back and pay compensation based on 2 years worth of their average last 5 years primary producer taxable income.

But they need water you say, true, so what you do then is to allow unlimited irrigation with a water meter on every pump to measure the extraction and charge for that water at the same rate as households pay.  Everyone pays the same.  Any properties which have water storage in the form of dams, weirs etc. get their volume of water stored calculated and they get a bill for the volume of water at the households rate.

There you go, totally fair.  Everyone pays the same.  Water should not be traded, all that does is allow those with the most money to own all the water.  That has to be almost the dumbest thing any politician has done for decades.  It is almost as stupid as the Water Board in SA, who had no farmers or country people on the board, determining that all farms in SA would have an allocation of water based on their area, which is fine so far.  But here's the dumb bit, they can trade their water allocation and if they don't use it they lose it.

A farm without water has no value, insisting on every farm using their allocation or losing it generated a lot of money for the companies selling sprinkler systems and boring contractors and also resulted in the water table going down steadily which mean all the boring contractors had even more work as the rural houses had to sink their water supply bore lower as well.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

When will our politicians have the guts to think a position through, ask questions of people who are not paid to give an opinion, listen to the answers from as many sides of the argument as possible and then make a decision?

Many people with the same opinion are not always right, a single person with an opinion is not always wrong.