Water on the Brain

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Ron Pike: The Murray-Darling Basin plan failing the nation.

Now the subject of a Senate inquiry the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) came into law as a result of lobbying by environmentalists and the unquestioning support for their cause run by most media organisations during the recent drought.

As the long millennium drought dragged on and stored water became scarce, authorities correctly rationed its use to ensure basic needs were met even if the drought continued. Annual crop irrigators were getting little, or in most cases, no water at this time. But Environmentalists used this naturally recurring situation to make sensationalist claims and were quick to blame irrigators, miners and even the building of dams for their hyped environmental problems. They failed to see or appreciate that in spite of the drought being the longest in over two hundred years and our vastly increased water needs as a result of population growth; sensible water management kept most of our rivers running and all basic water needs were supplied throughout the drought. This was in stark contrast to the four droughts in the hundred years prior to 1915 when the rivers of the MDB ran bone dry.

Moorook

A bone dry Murray River in 1915 and same spot at the peak of millennium drought.

Emotional sophistry replaced truth and reason as it was claimed that our rivers were dying as the result of extraction by irrigators and lack of flow in the mighty Murray was the cause of hyper salinity in the Coorong. Claims of dying river red gums, drying wetlands and species loss were repeated with graphic but mostly misleading detail.

It was even claimed that the long drought conditions being experienced, were the new norm and that we would all have to use less water as a result.

These emotive claims were false at the time and have since been proven to be false and detailed rebuttal of those claims is widely available and unchallenged except of course by the bureaucracy created to correct these illusory problems.

These facts did not stop politicians in Canberra and Sydney replacing what had proven to work for a century, with water management policy which is now having disastrous consequences for communities across the MDB and adversely affecting State and Federal budgets. Policy that is destroying our capacity to produce food and fibre and even having adverse impact on “The Environment” they claim to be “saving.”

Political acceptance of water availability falsehoods initially led to the wasting of billions of dollars on unneeded desalination plants; all of which are now mothballed and costing taxpayers millions of dollars every week. Money, Governments are trying to recoup with increasing water charges.

Committed to correcting a problem which they did not understand and which in fact did not exist, both Federal and State Governments legislated to give bureaucracies control of stored water. They legislated away the sovereign right of the people to use the water that falls from the sky, by implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and at State level, unworkable Water Sharing Plans.
Surely, before this or any action was taken, Legislators should have at least asked is there really a problem? What is the environment; where is it and why does it suddenly need more water? Can we conserve more water in times of excess for use in dry times? What are the likely consequences of any action we may take?

These vital questions were never asked by Politicians and as a result never answered by environmentalists or bureaucrats. It was blindly accepted that “The Environment” was some Garden of Eden like place only known to environmentalists, that uniquely existed somewhere down the Murray.

The result has seen the removal of water from thousands of hectares of productive farmland that was also pristine habitat for aquatic species. Much of this habitat is in farmers cropping fields and run-off wetlands established by farmers over several generations.

Food production asset, also providing habitat for aquatic species.

Food production asset, also providing habitat for aquatic species.

This productive water is now being flushed to the sea by environmental bureaucracies in an unneeded and misguided attempt to replicate river flows prior to water conservation. Trying to revert to what was historically unacceptable to modern man and harmful to aquatic species.

The MDB Plan being implemented is doing the opposite of what is claimed.

It is reducing the wetland footprint. It is killing river red gums. It is denying aquatic species breeding habitat that has been their home for decades and the reason for their increased numbers.

At the same time this Plan is causing damage and hardship to our fellow Australians in regional communities across the vast Murray-Darling Basin.

Using figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the NSW Irrigators Council calculated that for every million megalitres of water removed from productive use, there is a $940 million loss in production at the farm gate. The flow-on economic activity loss is more than two billion dollars and results in the loss of 7600 jobs in Basin communities.

The MDB Plan and State bureaucracies have to date removed from productive use in excess of two million megalitres of water, so the economic loss is in excess of four billion dollars per year and over 15,000 jobs have been removed from regional communities.
The most insidious result of this unnecessary Plan is that water required by those who grow our food is now unavailable when required and too expensive when it is available.

While the MDB Plan is destroying regional economies it is also dearly costing Governments, as $500 million annually is being lost in tax revenue, plus administration costs of nearly $100 million a year.

The huge impost on communities across the MDB is now being verified by community leaders, businessmen and even some Politicians. Submissions to the Senate Inquiry overwhelmingly and graphically highlight the unacceptable problems being caused.

Griffith City Mayor and farmer John Dal Broi said; “When it comes to the MDB plan, the environment has had primacy over human, social and economic considerations. The Plan has taken away people’s confidence and their ability to grow our town.”
Fellow Griffith Councillor and almond farmer, Paul Rossetto explains the flow on affects from reduced rice production alone, which has been felt across other industries throughout the community.

“In the last two seasons in our Griffith area, rice production was down by a third. That represents a cash flow loss of between fifty and sixty million dollars per year. This loss of cash flow affects everyone and is why we have seen over one hundred businesses close their doors in the Griffith district,” Mr Rossetto said.

The Mayor of Deniliquin, Lindsay Renwick said:

“From the 1950’s I have seen my town and community grow as a result of water being made available for irrigation. I am now watching my community lose business, population and hope as a result of water and forestry policy.”

Senator John Madigan who argued for the Senate inquiry into the MDB Plan said:

“When the MDB Plan was introduced to the Senate it made no sense to me and when I asked other Senators what it was about, they had no bloody idea. Having now listened to the people affected, I have no doubt the Parliament has made a big mistake.”

The Mayor of Moree Plains Shire, Katrina Humphries said:

“I have been in business in Moree for 32 years and we are all adversely affected because the rural sectors who generate our wealth are suffering. They are uncertain about their future, because the buying of water by the Commonwealth and State has seen a loss of jobs in our community.”

Third generation Griffith Businessman and Supermarket owner, Paul Snaidero said:

“We survived the drought, but we cannot survive the MDB Plan. People are leaving our area and property values are plummeting; if this was occurring in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra there would be such outcry it would likely change the government,” Mr. Snaidero added.

Not only is this unnecessary Plan ravaging the economy of communities throughout the Basin it is actually having an adverse impact on aquatic species and “The Environment” it is supposed to be protecting.

Research by the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra revealed the rice fields of the Riverina were once the biggest frog breeding ground in Australia. Their research calculated about five billion frogs bred in the rice fields annually if approximately 150,000 hectares of rice was sown. Since the plan was introduced rice production in the Riverina has declined by a third and is continuing to fall, resulting in a declining area of aquatic habitat and frog population.

The frogs are only one part of the food chain in rice paddies and other irrigated crops; at the top of which are the wading birds; one of which is the endangered Bittern. Recent research has shown that it is the annual rice crop that is the preferred breeding habitat for this species. The endangered Bittern’s preferred breeding ground is now being reduced by this irrational Plan.

Bitterns in Rice Field.

Bitterns in Rice Field.

The political and bureaucratic response to the millennium drought was the introduction of water policy that has resulted in a continuing man made drought for our irrigators. This policy is destroying food and fibre production, processing and transport businesses that have been painstakingly developed over several generations.

A Plan based on false claims and seeking to correct a problem that did not exist, is now wrecking regional communities, reducing aquatic habitat, adversely affecting environmental assets and costing the Government $600 million per year in lost revenue.

The submissions being presented to the Senate Inquiry repeatedly demonstrate that the present Plan can be replaced with a much better Plan. A Plan the Government should embrace because it would permanently correct the problems of the Coorong and Lower Lakes and eradicate European Carp from our rivers. Such a Plan would provide all of our water needs for the next century, including extra water for SA; while providing jobs in again prospering communities across the MDB.

Correctly managed our nation is blessed with abundant water and neither man nor his aquatic friends should ever be thirsty. Across the vast fertile plains of the MDB we have the land, the climate, the know-how and the people with the expertise to grow our food and fibre and provide these staples for others not so fortunate for centuries to come.

All that needs to be added are water and power both of which can be supplied in abundance with good policy. The MDB Plan and the State Water Sharing Plans are the antithesis of good policy and should be replaced by a Better Plan.

 

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