When the then Howard government introduced emergency measures in 2006, making water for Adelaide and other cities and towns within the basin a priority, flows from the upstream dams to the Lower Lakes in South Australia were significantly reduced for the first time in decades.
Malcolm Turnbull, then Water Minister, believed the system was in crisis and the Howard government responded to cries, in particular from its South Australian Cabinet Ministers, by drafting a new Water Act.
Back then the leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, was explaining that it has been “scientifically proven” that 1,500 gigalitres of environmental water is needed to keep the Basin healthy and in particular to keep the Murray’s mouth open. Until very recently, this same figure of 1,500 gigalitres was being quoted by Mike Young, University of Adelaide, and other water experts as the best science.
The Guide, released by the Murray Darling Basin Authority last Friday, now claims that the best science establishes that at least double this amount, 3,000 gigalitres, is the absolute minimum, and 7,600 gigalitres is a more realistic target. The major change has not been in the science, but rather expectations have grown within the ranks of Green activists, along with disdain for Australian agriculture, with rice growers in particular increasingly held in contempt.
The new Guide has been touted as an independent comprehensive scientific assessment of the environmental needs of the Murray Darling Basin, yet incredibly there is no justification provided in the 223-page document for the extraordinary revision of what was “scientifically proven” just a few years ago that is the need for up to 7,600 gigalitres when previously 1,500 was considered more than adequate. Incredibly the new Guide even lacks a reference list, normally a minimum requirement for a work of science.
The new water sharing plan, if implemented according to the Guide, will ensure more water is channeled directly to South Australia but no consideration is given to how this will impact on upstream floodplains.
Indeed at the moment, when it rains there is enough water for everyone, but if the proposals in the Guide are implemented, a near permanent drought will become a feature of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and this will significantly impact on the frogs.
It would be prudent for any radical new plan - the new Guide claims to provide a blueprint for the complete overhaul of water management in the Basin - to carefully consider all the implications of phasing out industries that provide important habitat for key indicator species. Yet incredibly the new Guide does not even consider one species of frog. Indeed there is absolutely no consideration of how changes in water allocations, in particular channeling more water directly to South Australia, will impact on the dozen or so species that comprise the 50 billion frogs many of which are reliant on irrigation along the Murrumbidgee.
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