Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Something for nothing: of mining and water interceptors - #1

Farm dams are used to harvest or store water for onsite irrigation
Image by Phillip Jordan, sourced from SKM

Perhaps it is just human nature and can be found anywhere in the world, but I also think of this trait as being peculiarly Australian.  What trait is that?  The "something for nothing" syndrome.  I don't know who said it first but truth lies in the adage: If it moves, shoot it.  If it stands still, mine it. And, in Australia, we are hearing a lot from and about miners these days - and, in fact, who wins government at the election to be held later this year is likely to be determined by this current conversation.

But the problem is more extensive than just the shooters and the miners, culpable though these may be on many occasions.  The "salt of the earth" farmers/primary producers are in it too.  They are miners of sorts - seeking to extract a living, and perhaps riches, from the land.  Many of them are opportunists too.  They think that out of sight is out of mind and they are kings and queens of all they survey and can do what they like.  What they stand accused of in this drought-stricken, climate changed land which also happens to be the driest inhabited continent on earth is illegal interception and diversion of precious water - particularly in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB).  

Click to enlarge this graphic
of the MDB Drainage area

Australia has had huge floods beginning up in the Channel Country of Queensland, and flowing down into the Murray Darling System. They will not reach the mouth of Murray in South Australia, at least in any meaningful quantities.  

Australia's inland rivers are unusual creatures - at least in my view.  The mighty Paroo - this year it has been mighty - is the last free river of the northern section of the Murray Darling Basin.  Only three times in its history since white settlement has it managed to join the Darling River

However the great influx of water in 2010 does not excuse what agricultural/pastoral/ horticultural interests in the MDB have been up to.  Interception [I would suggest with quite a large piece of deception thrown in from some quarters] or diversion it is called.  Go here and here to learn more.

To put it bluntly there have been many ill-advised interceptions and diversions carried out legally and officially by governments.  There have been many more illegal interceptions and diversions carried out by agricultural/pastoral/horticultural interests across the length and breadth of the Murray Darling Basin.  

Miss Eagle wonders what advice the recently formed Murray Darling Basin Authority might give the Australian Government on the matter of illegal and unauthorised diversions within the MDB.  

Many of my water activist friends love to bag Penny Wong.  I think this is unfair and displays one or both of two things: political bias and lack of knowledge of how political decision-making works in a pluralist democracy.

There are two things I would like to point out that have been done on Wong's watch which have not occurred before in Australian history, each of which have the capacity to change things over time.

It seems to me that the Australian Government should be using compliance laws and legal frameworks at Commonwealth and State levels to investigate illegal/unauthorised water interceptions and diversions in the MDB and, if possible, take legal action against those who have undertaken them.  Such interceptions and diversions should then be dismantled. If agriculturalists/pastoralists/horticulturalists want to act like bushwhackers and cowboys, then they should be treated accordingly by law.

Failure to do this will bring the National Water Accounting process into disrepute and the accounting process will not be a true record of water in Australia.
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