Dr John Conallin: I cannot believe a so-called developed country would stoop so low as to prostitute out models and assumptions as facts.
A leading Australian river scientist has described comments from the Australian Conservation Foundation as “misleading and manipulative”.
Dr John Conallin, an environmental flows specialist and visiting researcher based at UNESCO-IHE in the Netherlands, wants a more mature debate about achieving the right balance between water for environmental and productive use in Australia.
He was particularly concerned with a statement from the ACF’s health ecosystems manager Jonathan La Nauze who said: “The (Murray-Darling Basin) Authority’s legislated mandate is to set at scientifically determined sustainable levels the amount of water that is permitted to be taken out of rivers for irrigation.”
Dr Conallin said the whole notion of the ‘science says’ is ridiculous to another scientist.
“We use best available science and modelling to determine the flow targets for ecological outcomes. Therefore they are not facts, we are hypothesizing (a scientific best guess) the amount of take needed for the environment and as such they are assumptions, not facts, not scientific knowns.”
Dr Conallin said science is being touted around as a ‘decision’ instead of information to inform decision making.
“Figures are supposed to be adjusted as new information comes in, and that’s called adaptive management. Hypothesizing, or speculating, an end number and then blindly fighting for it goes against both scientific principles and adaptive management principles,” he said.
Dr Conallin said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is not an ecological plan, it is a triple bottom line plan, which means you work towards social-ecological acceptable outcomes.
“The best available science at present is highlighting that social impacts are significant and that significant third party impacts do occur under the relaxed constraints scenarios, as we learned through the latest flood events.
“So you look to adjust. That’s using best available science; that’s adaptive management.”
He said this obsession with modelled flow targets and water as the solution to the health of the system is not scientifically justified.
“If you want to build resilience into a system you need to take a multiple action approach, and that means other priority measures need to coincide with water, as has occurred in the past.
“The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps and his team have it right when they say they are trying to meet ‘ecological’ targets not ‘flow’ targets. They monitor and adapt using the latest information from that monitoring.
“Working primarily in a developing world context where water wars are a reality, I cannot believe a so-called developed country would stoop so low as to prostitute out models and assumptions as facts, and ignore new information as it generated,” Dr Conallin said.
He suggested a pragmatic way forward would be to use the water we have now to our best knowledge, increase complementary measures, test the assumptions, continue to adaptively manage, and use good science to inform on the direction and if we are meeting the intended outcomes.
“Now that would be something to showcase to the world,” Dr Conallin said.