Water Week

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NSW, Victoria, South Australia policy-makers drought-panic leads to weasel words and tricky accounting

Posted by waterweek on 21 September 2007

States have made a Declaration of emergency which requires to draining of more than 30 wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin to service Town Water and some irrigation. The Prime Minister’s release of the Murray-Darling Basin Dry Inflow Contingency Planning Overview Report, September 2007 showed panic-moves to respond to worst case of a dry Murray Darling system, with water below intakes, and with what water was left – so saline,  as to, poison crops. Each state had moved into last-ditch-measures mode, and tricky accounting was disguised with weasel word as all States agreed to change rules and use bureaucratic-speak to hide the take of the last water in the system – the wetlands and ‘environmental flows’ – needed to keep the river system alive.

While upstream NSW irrigation-allocations would continue – due to ‘carry-over” rules, and Snowy water-sales – areas downstream – in three zones of NSW, Victoria and South Australia – would drain wetlands, lower intake pipes, to get the last dregs, and also build a new weir at Wellington, and block flows, to, or pump-out wetlands.

NSW’s strange water accounting: On 28 August 2007 the NSW Government announced that whilst 2007-08 allocations remain at zero. 25 percent of the water suspended in 2006-07 and 25 percent of water was “carried over from 2006-07 by Murray Valley water users will be immediately re-credited to accounts and available for use”.

Fierce lobbying in the NSW Federal marginal seats: “Further, in NSW, water is being allocated on a month-by-month basis to provide water for non-deciduous tree crops, such as citrus, and is also being provided to other high security entitlement holders who have successfully applied to the NSW Government for water to meet critical needs”.

Theoretical water in Victoria: On 15 August 2007 Goulburn-Murray Water announced a 5 percent bridging allocation to Victorian Murray Valley high reliability entitlement holders to enable irrigators to plan early season water use, but advised that immediate access to water from channels would be delayed until there was a widespread demand. Water carried over from 2006-07 is available to entitlement holders in Victoria, but in some cases cannot be delivered until the delivery channels are filled and operated. In Victoria, on 3 September 2007 Goulburn-Murray Water announced an increase in allocation of high-reliability water shares from 15 percent to 17 percent for the Goulburn system and access to 10 percent high-reliability water shares in the Broken system for a period of two months ending 31 October 2007. Continuing low inflows have prevented any allocations in the Victorian tributary systems of Campaspe, Loddon and Bullarook Creek.

South Australia: On 2 August 2007 South Australian River Murray irrigation allocations were increased from 4 percent to 13 percent and the 30 GL of water carried over by irrigators from 2006-07 was made available, 18 GL remains unallocated. There was no change to these allocations when an update was announced on 23 August 2007.

South Australia to buy 10 gigalitres: Water licences in the lower Murray area were purchased by SA Water: “An additional 25 gigalitres of water from River Murray has been purchased and 10 gigalitres of this have been sold to the Minister for the River Murray to support achievement of South Australia’s obligations under the Living Murray initiative ..SA Water will ultimately purchase an additional 10 gigalitres”.

Snowy forced to supply flows: The NSW Government announced on 8 August 2007 that inflows into the Murrumbidgee Valley during July 2007 would allow the repayment of the 5 percent of water suspended in general and high security licensees’ accounts in 2006-07 as well as water carried over from 2006-07. On 28 August 2007 allocations for Murrumbidgee high security licence holders were increased to 60 percent. Snowy also sold more water to Murrumbidgee irrigators, despite its own record low storages. However high snow levels and the start of spring melt could increase storages in the next three months.

Weasel water words to allow final-water-take: The States “Sharing of unregulated flows in the Murray System” was described this way:

The Declaration: Modified arrangements to cater for the use of unregulated flows for the current period of record low water availability have been put in place. Special arrangements for the sharing of unregulated flows (as described in Recommendation 6) will be implemented by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission while the States are in the period of special water sharing arrangements agreed by First Ministers on 20 June 2007.

“Unregulated flows are normally declared by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission when high flows are forecast to occur that cannot be used to meet South Australia’s entitlement flow or captured and re-regulated in Murray System storages.

This declaration triggers processes to permit use of the unregulated flows for purposes and under rules that vary between jurisdictions. The location, timing and volumes of these unregulated flows are unpredictable and highly variable. However, even small volumes of unregulated flow may be very significant in the current context of low water availability.

When normal State water sharing arrangements under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement resumes the normal management of unregulated flows will also resume. The transition back to normal water sharing arrangements under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement will not commence until total water availability reaches around 2200 GL”

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