Giving environmental water to drought-stricken farmers sounds straightforward, but it’s a bad idea


Erin O’Donnell, University of Melbourne and Avril Horne, University of Melbourne

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack last week suggested the government would look at changing the law to allow water to be taken from the environment and given to farmers struggling with the drought.

This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, the environment needs water in dry years as well as wet ones. Second, unilaterally intervening in the way water is distributed between users undermines the water market, which is now worth billions of dollars. And, third, in dry years the environment gets a smaller allocation too, so there simply isn’t enough water to make this worthwhile.




Read more:
To help drought-affected farmers, we need to support them in good times as well as bad


In fact, the growing political pressure being put on environmental water holders to sell their water to farmers is exactly the kind of interference that bodies such as the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder were established to avoid.

The environment always needs water

The ongoing sustainable use of rivers is based on key ecosystem functions being maintained, and this means that environmental water is needed in both wet and dry years. The objectives of environmental watering change from providing larger wetland inundation events in wet years, to maintaining critical refuges and basic ecosystem functions in dry years.

Prolonged dry periods cause severe stress to ecosystems, such as during the Millennium Drought when many Murray River red gums were sickened by salinity and lack of water. Environmental water is essential for ecosystem survival during these periods.

Under existing rules, environmental water holders can sell and buy water so as to deliver maximum benefits at the places and times it is most needed.

But during dry years the environmental water holders receive the same water allocations as other users. So it’s very unlikely there will be any “spare” water during drought. During a dry period, the environment is in urgent need of water to protect endangered species and maintain basic ecosystem functions.

We should be cautious when environmental water is sold during drought, as this compromises the ability of environmental water holders to meet their objectives of safeguarding river health. When the funds from the sale are not used to mitigate the loss of the available water to the environment, this is even more risky.

Secure water rights support all water users

In response to McCormack’s suggestion, the National Irrigators’ Council argued that compulsorily acquiring water from the environment can actually hurt farmers who depend on the water market as a source of income or water during drought.

Water markets are underpinned by clear legal rights to water. In other words, the entitlements the environment holds are the same as those held by irrigators. If the government starts treating environmental water rights as barely worth the paper they’re printed on, farmers would have every reason to fear that their own water rights might similarly be stripped away in the future.

Maintaining the integrity of the water market is important for all participants who have chosen to sell water, based on reasonable expectations of how prices will hold up.

Can taking environmental water actually help farmers?

As federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud noted this week, environmental water is only about 8% of total water allocations in storage throughout the Murray Darling Basin. In the southern basin, it is still only about 14%. This means that between 86% and 92% of water currently sitting in storage is already allocated to human use, including farming.

There are calls for the Commonwealth government to treat the drought as an emergency and to take (or “borrow”) water from environmental water holders. But the Murray-Darling Basin Plan already has specific arrangements in place for emergencies in which critical human water needs are threatened.

The current situation in New South Wales is not an emergency under the plan. Water resources across the northern Murray-Darling Basin are indeed low, but storages in the southern basin are still 50-75% full. Although many licence holders in NSW received zero water in July’s round of allocations, high-security water licences are at 95-100%. In northern Victoria, most high-reliability water shares on the Murray are at 71% allocation.

The situation can therefore be managed using existing tools, such as providing direct financial support to farming communities and buying water on the water market.

Environmental water is an investment, not a luxury

As Australia’s First Nations have known for millennia, a healthy environment is not an optional extra. It underpins the sustainability and security of the water we depend on. When river flows decline, the water becomes too toxic to use.




Read more:
Spring is coming, and there’s little drought relief in sight


Water has been allocated to the environment throughout the Murray-Darling Basin to prevent the catastrophic blue-green algal blooms and salinity problems we have experienced in the past. If we want safe, secure water supplies for people, livestock and crops, we need to keep these key river ecosystems alive and well during the drought.

In the past decade alone, Australia has spent A$13 billion of taxpayers’ money to bring water use in the Murray-Darling Basin back to sustainable levels. If we let our governments treat the environment like a “water bank” to spend when times get tough, this huge investment will have been wasted.The Conversation

Erin O’Donnell, Senior Fellow, Centre for Resources, Energy and Environment Law, University of Melbourne and Avril Horne, Research fellow, Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Check In: Day 2 of Holiday


I have had a most interesting couple of days on the road and in the bush. Currently I’m in a motel room at Woolgoolga, near Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia. ‘Hardly the wild,’ I hear you say, and you’re quite right – it isn’t. The weather was beginning to change I noticed on the final leg of my day’s itinerary, so I decided to hide out in a motel room for the night – good decision, it’s pouring outside.

I won’t give all away – I’ll leave the main description of the holiday to the website – but just some of the ‘downlights’ of the first couple of days for this post.

I didn’t arrive at Cathedral Rock National Park until just on dark, but did get the tent up prior to darkness arriving – when it did, it was dark! The campfire took an eternity to get going as all of the timber was damp and by the time I got it started it was time for bed – all-be-it an early night (7.30pm). I had decided to not spend the money on replacing all of the gear I needed to replace for camping, following the loss of a lot of gear over the years due to storage, etc. I hadn’t done much in the way of bushwalking or camping for years due to injuries sustained in my car crash and a bad ankle injury, so I left it all a bit late. I figured that for this holiday I’d make do and replace the gear with quality gear before the next trip. In short, I’ll get by – but it would have been nice to have some good gear just the same. It was a very cold night let me tell you – and long.

When I reached the heights of my first walk today, standing on top of Cathedral Rock National Park, my digital camera decided to die on me. I knew there was something wrong with it during the ascent as it was really chugging away taking pictures. I did get a couple of reasonable panoramic shots on the top of Cathedral Rock before it died, so that was good. I took stills with the video camera I was using, so it wasn’t a complete loss. When I completed the Woolpack Rocks walk I made the trip to Coffs Harbour to seek a replacement and got one for a reasonable price. It’s just another compact and so I will also buy a digital SLR prior to my next trip I hope. My previous SLR was basically destroyed when the camera cap came off during a multiple day bushwalk and all manner of stuff got into it. It wasn’t digital so I didn’t bother repairing it.

So tomorrow – off to Dorrigo National Park I hope and several lengthy walks I haven’t done before. Hopefully the rain will clear.

 

Wildlife: Adopt an Animal with WWF


World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has come up with a novel way to raise funds for animals they are seeking to protect. Supporters are able to adopt an animal from a selection on their website. There are a number of options for adopting animals, including the type of animal you would like to adopt, who you would like to adopt the animal for and what you will receive in consequence of an adoption. This idea may not be a bad idea for a gift perhaps?

For more visit:
http://onlineshop.wwf.org.au/adopt-an-animal.html

 

NSW Road Trip 2010: A Few Thoughts From the Road


It is now day 5 of the road trip and I have already covered almost 3000km. As you can appreciate covering that amount of territory in 5 days doesn’t leave a lot of time to Blog, especially when I have been trying to keep the website updated as well.

See the NSW Road Trip 2010 website at:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html

What I thought I might do in this Blog is just pass on a few thoughts that have come to me while I have been driving around this great state of Australia – New South Wales. Let’s call this post, ‘A Few Thoughts From the Road.’

I have often thought that the governments of this country are wasting a great opportunity in promoting tourism in Australia. With such great distances to travel in Australia, wouldn’t it be great if the governments came up with an action plan to improve the rest areas throughout the country. Certainly some of them have been upgraded to a wonderful state – but then there is a lack of maintenance.

Many of the rest areas I have stopped at in the last few days have no facilities at all. Often they are nothing more than an overloaded garbage bin on the side of a road, with limited space in which to park.

To cut a long story short, I think Australia’s tourism industry would get a great shot in the arm if rest areas were improved across the country. It would also be good if hey could be located somewhere with a good view, an attraction, a small park for families, etc.

To go a step further (and this is perhaps pie in the sky), wouldn’t it also be great for the many Australians that drive throughout the country on camping/caravan holidays, if a percentage of these rest areas had some limited facilities for tents and caravans as well?

Perhaps a lot more people would travel around the country if such improved rest areas were created. There would also need to be some plan to keep the maintenance of these areas up to scratch also.

Another thing that militates against the travelling tourism that is fairly popular in Australia (it could be far greater), is the condition of many of the caravan parks across the country. To be sure, there are some excellent parks – but there are also a large number of parks that charge top dollar for run down facilities and grubby grounds. These poor operators need to lift their games to provide good facilities for their customers or they won’t get the return business that caravan parks depend upon. They need to spend a bit of money in order to make money.

I won’t return to a caravan park in which I had a bad experience – whether it be top dollar for run down facilities, poor service, poor attitudes of operators, etc. Some of these places just have no idea how to run a successful caravan park.

More thoughts to come – these will do for today.