The recent exposé by the ABC Four Corners program of alleged illegal extraction of water from the Barwon-Darling river system is, if verified, the largest river water theft in Australian history. The Barwon-Darling river system is one of the major tributaries of the Murray River. Taxpayers have spent $13 billion to restore the health of the Murray-Darling Basin in the past decade. The revelations cast doubt on the willingness of the New South Wales Government to achieve this vital restoration, and even on their commitment to the entire Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The initial driver of water reform in the late 1990s was a widespread recognition that historically too much water had been allocated from the Murray-Darling system, and that it had suffered substantial ecological damage as a result. State and Commonwealth governments made a bipartisan commitment to re-set the balance between water consumption and environmental water, to help restore the basin’s health and also to ensure that water-dependent industries and communities can be strong and sustainable throughout the extent of the system. Key to this was the idea that upstream users could not take water to the detriment of the environment, the wildlife, farmers, towns and people downstream. Control of water was a major stumbling block in negotiating the Plan because of a clash between states’ water management responsibilities and the Commonwealth’s obligations to the environment. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan hinged on the development of water accounting tools that could measure both water availability and consumption. Only through trust in this process can the downstream environment be protected and users have confidence that they are receiving their proper share.
The states are responsible for enforcing the Plan and ensuring that allocations are not exceeded. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority cannot easily enforce action on the ground and this is a situation that generates potential for state-level political interference and failure to ensure compliance. The Plan was built on a foundation of trust and transparency. What is now being questioned is whether water extractions and their policing have been subjected to an adequate degree of review and rigour.
The public needs to be able to trust that all parties are working honestly and accountably. Without this the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will unravel. The ABC’s important Four Corners program revealed that this trust has been misplaced and that New South Wales has acted in the interests of its large upstream irrigators at the expense of the environment and downstream partners.
A comprehensive judicial investigation of this extraction of water is required to ascertain the facts and bring home accountability. Unfortunately this incident provides a prime example of the difficulty of leaving the management of national environmental assets to States that are competing for access to the benefits of the resource. Regardless of the outcome of a judicial review the only way that the fragile trust that underlies the water reform process can be built and maintained is through the Commonwealth taking full responsibility for management of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Frank Breen, President
1 Thanks to the on-line journal The Conversation for information included in this note..
A powerful network of sixteen community, planning and health organisations has called on the Premier of NSW to urgently preserve and extend the green lungs of a rapidly growing Sydney, in an open letter organised by the Total Environment Centre.
The joint letter calls for improved protection for parks, trees and habitat corridors from urban development, and again raises serious concerns about the proposed Biodiversity Offsets Scheme which will lead to the widespread clearing of remnant bushland in the Greater Sydney area in return for developers' cash payments.
Fire Ant Fightback - Success for ISC!
The Invasive Species Council reports that Agriculture ministers from across Australia have officially signed off on the new, revamped fire ant eradication program. This is a massive win and would not have happened without the support of thousands of individuals and a diverse range of organisations. Congratulations to ISC!
The eradication program will be fully funded with $411 million dollars over the next ten years. If not eradicated, fire ants could become one of Australia's worst environmental, health and agricultural pests with a greater impact than rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats combined, costing the economy more than $1 billion a year.
Stop Adani North Sydney has organised a film night showing not only: Guarding the Galilee but also An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. There will also be speakers. 6 September at 6pm, Hoyts Chatswood Westfield. Tell your friends! Book at: eventbrite.com.au
Earth Overshoot Day: There is a date every year when the world's resource bank goes into overdraft. ABC News reported that for 2017 Earth Overshoot Day was reached globally on 2 August. So for the rest of year we're alarmingly in the burning red.
The date marks the point when the amount of carbon emitted reaches the amount the forests and oceans are able to absorb. This year it happened in seven months, according to the Global Footprint Network. It's the point when the amount of natural resources that humanity takes from the Earth reaches the total that can be regenerated over the entire year.
That's the earliest the ‘Overshoot’ has ever been and it's no thanks to Australia. If every country in the world lived like Australia, Earth Overshoot Day would have been on 12 March.
“In addition to conservation issues, the Society staffs a visitor centre on weekends at the Field of Mars Wildlife Refuge. All welcome.”