Murray Darling Basin ’Near Full’ at Various Points as Vic Farmers Chief Challenges Water Recovery Policy

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Higher than average rainfall has resulted in water storage levels along the Murray-Darling Basin to be “near full” and/or “spilling” along various points, with one area hitting a six-year high, a report has found.

This comes as Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Water Council Chair Andrew Leahy criticises the federal government’s policy to recover the controversial 450 gigalitres of water for the environment through “efficiency measures.”

According to the annual operating outlook report (pdf) by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Hume Dam in the Riverina region of New South Wales is sitting at 95 percent capacity, Dartmouth Dam in North-Eastern Victoria recorded 97 percent, Menindee Lakes in South-West NSW has reached 115 percent, and Lake Victoria along South Australian border recorded 63 percent.

The total storage capacity of the whole basin recorded 92 percent, or 20,547 of 22,258 gigalitres, on Aug. 3, according to the MDBA.

This week, water flowing into South Australia reached a six-year high with 53 gigalitres flowing per day, with residents along the SA-Victoria border being issued with a flood risk warning, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The MDBA report also predicts a 50 percent chance for La Niña conditions later in 2022, with the Bureau of Meterology anticipating “higher than median rainfall” during late winter and into spring. La Niña events typically bring above average spring rainfall in eastern Australia.

“Given the high levels of water in storage, the risk of a shortfall in water delivery to entitlement holders this year is relatively low, however the risk could increase if conditions dry off and water demands ramp up quickly during a period of hot weather,” Andrew Reynolds, MDBA Executive Director of River Management said in a statement on Aug. 8.

Reynolds said that at the Hume Dam, the MDBA has been “in and out of flood operations” for the past 12 months, and this will likely continue into spring.

“As always, we’ll work closely with the Bureau of Meteorology and WaterNSW, and will communicate any significant changes to communities downstream of the dam,” Reynolds said, adding that the MBDA will consider whether there is a need to start accessing water from the Menindee Lakes to fulfil demand in the Murray system as the year progresses.

“The fact that we did not need to draw water from the Menindee Lakes last summer underscores how unusual this long period of wet weather and high flows has been,” Reynolds said.

Recovery of Controversial 450 Gigalitres of Water

Meanwhile, a report (pdf) that was released by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) on Aug. 2 has found the full cost of recovering the full 450 gigalitres of water through the MDBA’s “efficiency measures” will be between AU$3.4 (US$2.4) billion and AU$10.8 billion.

Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Water Council Chair Andrew Leahy said positive environmental outcomes were already being achieved without the need for a further 450 gigalitre water recovery.

“Over 2,100 gigalitres of water has already been recovered for the environment and has delivered great benefit to our ecosystems. But we must acknowledge the huge toll on rural communities and agricultural jobs as a consequence,” Leahy said in a statement.

“Further recovery can’t be achieved, will hurt farming communities and jobs, and won’t provide any real environmental benefit.”

Under the Murray Darling Basin Plan—which received bipartisan support in 2012 under the Gillard government—the basin states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory agreed to remove 2,750 gigalitres of water from irrigated agriculture and relocate that back into the basin by 2024.

Over the past decade, more than 2,100 gigalitres have been relocated back into the environment.

An additional 450 gigalitres of water is to be recovered through “efficiency measures,” which are also expected to be completed by 2024.

Criticising the Coalition’s “lack of will” in delivering the Murray Darling Basin Plan, Australia’s Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek said that the AU$1.575 billion the previous government had reserved for the plan was “just sitting there.”

“It shows a move to program settings that could not have delivered the 450GL even if the previous government had wanted to,” Plibersek said in a statement.

“The WESA (Water for the Environment Special Account) funding expires on 30 June 2024—it is clear from this Report that the Nationals were simply running down the clock on this money.

“Indeed, the report shows that under current policy settings, there is virtually no way that the money can be spent in the remaining timeframe,” she said.

In an email to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for the MDBA said that work to achieve the 450 gigalitres target, including Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) supply projects, “needs to be done—only then will we see a step change in the environmental health of the Basin.”

“This would benefit important wetlands like the Macquarie Marshes, Gwydir wetlands, Great Cumbung Swamp, Lower Murrumbidgee wetlands and the iconic Coorong.

“If constraints were relaxed, this would further enhance the environmental outcomes achieved along the full length of our rivers—by connecting rivers to their floodplains—and allowing local communities right along our rivers to enjoy improved river health as well as social, cultural and wellbeing benefits.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young have previously accused federal Labor of being in “breach” of a key election promise in recovering the 450 gigalitres.

In July, Plibersek conceded that delivering the 450 gigalitres of water back into Murray Darling Basin before the 2024 deadline would be “next to impossible” and signalled a potential to extend the deadline.

Henry Jom


Henry Jom is an Australian based reporter covering local Australia news.
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