It’s official: expert review rejects NSW plan to let seawater flow into the Murray River


Jamie Pittock, Australian National University; Bruce Thom, University of Sydney; Celine Steinfeld; Eytan Rocheta, UNSW, and Nicholas Harvey, University of Adelaide

A major independent review has confirmed freshwater flows are vital to maintaining the health of the Murray River’s lower lakes, striking a blow to demands by New South Wales that seawater flow in.

The review, released today, was led by the CSIRO and commissioned by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. It examined hundreds of scientific studies into the lower lakes region of South Australia, through which the Murray River flows before reaching the ocean.

The review recommends managing the lakes with freshwater, not seawater. More importantly, it highlights how climate change and upstream farming is reducing the flow of water for the environment in the lower lakes.

These findings are critically important. They show the severe health threat still facing the river system and its internationally important wetlands. They also cast doubt on whether the A$13 billion basin plan can achieve all its aims.

A plan to save the parched Murray Darling system may not succeed.
Dean Lewins/AAP

A barrage of criticism

The Murray Darling river system runs from Queensland, through NSW, the ACT and Victoria. In South Australia the River Murray discharges into two large lakes, Alexandrina and Albert, before flowing into the 130 kilometre-long Coorong lagoon, through the Murray Mouth and into the ocean.

Since 1940 five low dams, or barrages, have stopped seawater flowing into the lakes from the Murray Mouth and Coorong, and raised the lakes’ water level.

NSW wants the barrages lifted to allow seawater back into Lake Alexandrina, to free up freshwater for agriculture upstream.




Read more:
6,000 years of climate history: an ancient lake in the Murray-Darling has yielded its secrets


In December 2019, NSW Nationals John Barilaro said: “I refuse to let regional communities die while we wash productive water into the Great Australian Bite (sic), 1000km away”. Irrigation advocates have backed his calls.

Victoria has also questioned whether the lower lakes can continue to be kept fresh, given the water scarcity plaguing the entire river system.

But today’s review confirmed the lower lakes were largely a freshwater ecosystem prior to European occupation. It said removing the barrages would cause significant ecological and socioeconomic harm, and would not lead to water savings if the basin plan targets are to be met.

The Murray Mouth is choking

The review cited research we published this month, which concluded it was impossible to achieve the basin plan target to keep the Murray Mouth open 95% of the time.

This is because Murray Darling Basin Authority modelling did not factor in the power of the Southern Ocean to move sand into the Murray Mouth, which is now choked. Dredging will be required most of the time to keep the Murray Mouth open and maintain the ecology of the Coorong.

The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert are a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The review found removing the barrages would significantly change the freshwater character of the site, which we have an international obligation to maintain for the sake of waterbirds, fisheries and threatened species.




Read more:
Damning royal commission report leaves no doubt that we all lose if the Murray-Darling Basin Plan fails


This is becoming harder during periods when freshwater inflows are scarce. In the Millennium Drought for example, lake levels fell exposing highly acidic mudflats. In other areas, the waters became more salty.

After the basin plan was adopted in 2012, the condition of the lower lakes improved when the Millennium Drought broke and environmental flows were delivered, sustaining the system in the current drought. But very little of those flows enter the sea, except during floods.

The system of barrages in the lower lakes consist of 593 gates. Using official data, we calculate that for 70% of the time since 2007, fewer than ten gates have been open to the sea. For one-third of the time, none were open, indicating there is insufficient water to sustain fisheries and flush salt to the ocean.

Our research concludes that without the barrages the sand banks will reduce the volume of water flowing through the Murray Mouth. The tides would not be strong enough to keep the lakes flushed so water quality would decline. No barrages means lower lake levels and exposed mudflats, generating sulphuric acid.

Aerial view of the Murray River barrages, circa 1940.
State Library of South Australia

An uncertain future

The review reinforces the South Australian government’s position that the lakes should be maintained with freshwater. It also obliges the federal government to implement the basin plan in its current form, despite NSW’s demands for changes.

The final report also highlighted how climate change will make management of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth “increasingly challenging” and said adaptation options were needed for the entire river system.

By the end of this century, rising seas may flow over the barrages. Maintaining freshwater inflows and the barrages buys us time, but we need a serious national conversation about how to manage this challenge.




Read more:
Australia’s inland rivers are the pulse of the outback. By 2070, they’ll be unrecognisable


The federal and South Australian governments recently announced a Coorong Partnership to enable local communities and groups participate in programs to improve management of the lagoon. This is timely and should be expanded to cover the broader Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth regions.

Freshwater flowing from the headwaters to the sea is vital for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin as a whole. Today’s report should be the start of the national discussion on shoring up the health of Australia’s most important river system in the face of an uncertain future.The Conversation

Jamie Pittock, Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University; Bruce Thom, Emeritus Professor, University of Sydney; Celine Steinfeld, Acting Director, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists & Adjunct Lecturer at UNSW Sydney; Eytan Rocheta, Policy Analyst, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists & Adjunct Associate Lecturer at UNSW Sydney, UNSW, and Nicholas Harvey, , University of Adelaide

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

Review of historic stock routes may put rare stretches of native plants and animals at risk


File 20170920 20014 1wts1nv
The travelling stock routes are a precious national resource.
Author provided

Luke S. O’Loughlin, Australian National University; Damian Michael, Australian National University; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University, and Thea O’Loughlin, Charles Sturt University

Since the 19th century, Australian drovers have moved their livestock along networks of stock routes. Often following traditional Indigenous pathways, these corridors and stepping-stones of remnant vegetation cross the heavily cleared wheat and sheep belt in central New South Wales.

The publicly owned Travelling Stock Reserve network of New South Wales is now under government review, which could see the ownership of much of this crown land move into private hands.

But in a study published today in the Australian Journal of Botany we suggest that privatising stock routes may endanger vital woodlands and put vulnerable species at risk.


Read more: How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia’s highway network


The review will establish how individual reserves are currently being used. Although originally established for graziers, the patches of bush in the network are now more likely to be used for recreation, cultural tourism, biodiversity conservation, apiary and drought-relief grazing.

This shift away from simply moving livestock has put pressure on the government to seek “value” in the network. The review will consider proposals from individuals and organisations to buy or acquire long-term leases for particular reserves.

It is likely that most proposals to purchase travelling stock reserves would come from existing agricultural operations.

A precious national resource

Travelling stock reserves across New South Wales represent some of the most intact examples of now-endangered temperate grassy woodland ecosystems.

Our research found that changing the status or use of these reserves could seriously impact these endangered woodlands. They criss-cross highly developed agricultural landscapes, which contain very limited amounts of remnant vegetation (areas where the bush is relatively untouched). Travelling stock reserves are therefore crucially important patches of habitat and resources for native plants and animals.

This isn’t the first time a change in ownership of travelling stock reserves has been flagged. Over the last century, as modern transport meant the reserves were used less and less for traditional droving, pressure to release these areas for conventional agriculture has increased.

Historic stock routes are still used for grazing cattle.
Daniel Florance, Author provided

To understand what a change in land tenure might mean to the conservation values of these woodlands, we spent five years monitoring vegetation in stock reserves in comparison to remnant woodlands on private farmland.

We found that travelling stock reserves contained a higher number of native plant species, more native shrubs, and less exotic plants than woodland remnants on private land.

The higher vegetation quality in travelling stock reserves was maintained over the five years, which included both the peak of Australia’s record-breaking Millennium Drought and the heavy rainfall that followed, referred to as the “Big Wet”.

The take-home message was that remnant woodland on public land was typically in better nick than in private hands.

Importantly, other studies have found that this high-quality vegetation is critical for many threatened and vulnerable native animals. For example, eastern yellow robins and black-chinned honeyeaters occur more frequently in places with more shrubs growing below the canopy.

The vulnerable superb parrot also uses travelling stock reserves for habitat.
Damian Michael, Author provided

The contrast we saw between woodlands in travelling stock reserves and private land reflects the different ways they’re typically managed. Travelling stock reserves have a history of periodic low-intensity grazing, mostly by cattle, with long rest periods. Woodland on active farms tend to be more intensively grazed, by sheep and cattle, often without any strategic rest periods.

The stock reserves’ future

The uncertain future of travelling stock reserves casts doubt on the state of biodiversity across New South Wales.

The current review of travelling stock reserves is considering each reserve in isolation. It flies in the face of the belief of many managers, practitioners and researchers that the true value of these reserves is in the integrity of the entire network – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Travelling stock reserves protect threatened species, allow the movement of wildlife, are seed sources for habitat restoration efforts, and support the ecosystem of adjacent agricultural land. These benefits depend on the quality of the remnant vegetation, which is determined by the grazing regime imposed by who owns and manages the land.

Of course, not all travelling stock reserves are in good condition. Some are subject to high-intensity livestock grazing (for example, under longer-term grazing leases) coupled with a lack of funding to manage and enhance natural values.

Changing the land tenure status of travelling stock reserves risks increasing grazing pressure, which our study suggests would reduce ecosystem quality and decrease their conservation value.

The travelling stock routes are important parts of our ecosystem, our national heritage, and our landscape. They can best be preserved by remaining as public land, so the entire network can be managed sustainably.

This requires adequate funding for the Local Land Services, so they can appropriately manage pest animals, weeds, erosion and illegal firewood harvesting and rubbish dumping.

The ConversationTravelling stock reserves are more than just The Long Paddock – they are important public land, whose ecological value has been maintained under public control. They should continue to be managed for the public good.

Luke S. O’Loughlin, Research fellow, Australian National University; Damian Michael, Ecologist, Australian National University; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and Thea O’Loughlin, Ecologist, Adjunct Researcher, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate change must be part of Australia’s electricity system review


Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

On Friday, Australia’s federal and state energy ministers met for an extraordinary meeting following the complete loss of power in South Australia on September 28. The COAG Energy Council announced a wide-ranging independent review to provide advice to governments on a coordinated, national reform blueprint. The review will be chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

Dr Finkel has been challenged with steering Australia’s energy system around some big potholes while keeping his eye on the horizon. And all in about six months.

The review will consider work already being done around maintaining the security, reliability and affordability of electricity as delivered by the National Electricity market (NEM) (which covers all states except Western Australia and the Northern Territory).

The state-wide blackout became a political opportunity for Australia’s politicians. Yet it is certainly too early and hopefully wrong to say if this is just a reactive response.

What’s in the review?

The review has three timeframes. The immediate priority will be to systematically assemble existing processes and work programs initiated over the last year by the energy council and identify any major gaps in the context of energy security and reliability in the NEM. Some of these processes, such as a review of market governance arrangements, have been completed but not fully actioned.

Others have only recently been announced. These include analysis of the impact of federal, state and territory carbon policies on energy markets and the reviews of the South Australian blackout. They will not all be complete by the December council meeting.

The review is expected to deliver a blueprint via a final report early in the new year. It is likely to include specific actions, both physical and financial, that respond to recent events such as South Australia’s price shock in July and blackout in September. These two issues should not be conflated. To do so, would risk solving neither.

The council has highlighted the significant transition underway in the Australian electricity market. The drivers include “rapid technological change, the increasing penetration of renewable energy, a more decentralised generation system, withdrawal of traditional baseload generation and changing consumer demand”. The blueprint will address all of these issues in a comprehensive and coordinated way not previously a feature of the council’s output.

There is much uncertainty to how some of these drivers will evolve over the next two decades. To be really effective, the blueprint will need to consider a range of plausible long-term scenarios but focus on near-term options that can be adapted to evolving developments on all fronts.

The Chief Scientist will, amongst other things, bring to the review his knowledge of current and likely future developments in energy technologies. This will be important in considering policy, legislative and rule changes that favour the adoption of technologies that could address both low-emissions and reliability but are otherwise technology-neutral.

The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, and his state and territory counterparts are to be applauded for the speed and cohesiveness they have shown in instigating the review. This follows a similar approach that permeated their August meeting where considerable progress was made on key energy market reforms across several fronts.

Get climate policy right

There are two critical areas of concern. The fundamental driver behind the issues listed in the review’s terms of reference is climate change and the policy response to it.

The federal government is committed to a 2017 review of its domestic climate change policies against its 2030 emissions reduction target.

State and territory governments have announced or implemented their own climate change and renewable energy policies. It is not surprising that states such as Victoria remain committed to these policies even though they are open to criticism for being uncoordinated at a national level, or failing to consider implications for system reliability and security.

Primary responsibility must rest with the federal government to deliver a credible scalable climate policy. Much can then flow from there, including agreement from states and territories to truly act in the spirit of national coordination to which they committed.

Greenhouse gas reduction is best achieved by putting a price on emissions through one of several options that have been canvassed in 2016 and in a form that acts with the electricity market and not outside it. The review’s terms of reference are silent on this issue, and yet recognise that the nature and structure of climate change policy have critical implications for the NEM.

Wind and solar power are intermittent. Their integration into the generation mix while maintaining reliability is best achieved by valuing flexibility either through the NEM or via complementary policies or regulations. The review is oddly silent on this issue. It is to be hoped that this is unintended and will be picked up in the course of the review.

There were high expectations for Friday’s council meeting. A state-wide blackout does that. These expectations have been delegated to the review which the council must support and drive to outcomes.

Minister Frydenberg has strongly and repeatedly emphasised that the government will not compromise energy reliability and security in the transition to a low emissions future. Failure on this front will not be forgiven.

The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2015 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Media Release: NPWS to review Glenrock Track Closures


Planned track closures in Glenrock State Conservation Area have stopped and will be reviewed following public outcry. The link below is to a media release on the issue.

For more visit:
http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/media/OEHmedia13081400.htm

2011 Review: New Species Still Being Discovered


It seems incredible, that even now, new species of living organisms are still being discovered by science. Perhaps you would be forgiven for thinking that only very small creatures and some plants are all that remains to be discovered. However, there are large organisms being found as well.

In Australia, a new species of dolphin was recorded.

However, it is not all good news, with some species becoming extinct as well.

Read more at:
http://news.mongabay.com/2011/1226-new_species_review_2011.html