It’s time to admit water mistakes

January 24, 2018

In his five-year report of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Murray-Darling Basin Authority chair Neil Andrew refers to improved environmental health.

In his five-year report of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Murray-Darling Basin Authority chair Neil Andrew refers to improved environmental health.

Given the improved climatic conditions in the five years post the worst 10 years of drought in recorded history I am not surprised there are positive outcomes.

I also find it difficult to validate these claims when the House of Representatives’ Interim Report into the Living Murray (2004) concluded that our rivers were in quite good health and not in decline, and that no water should be taken from production as the science was not there to justify such action.

The MDBA has also claimed responsibility for the growth in the basin economy.

Again, this growth for the non-irrigation sector of the basin is not surprising given the more favourable seasons, following the crippling drought coupled with improved commodity prices for cattle, wool, fat lambs and harvestable grain crops.

However, no-one is keen to take responsibility for the adverse impact on industries and commodities with the massive depletion of water for productive use, or the adverse impact on industries and commodities, which is profound and ongoing.

Unfortunately, some applaud the trading of water to high value crops and the opportunity for large profits of corporate developments of horticulture, while ignoring the misery inflicted on communities in the process.

Does anyone realise a small oversupply of high value crops very quickly becomes low value or no value crops?

The Howard Government has achieved what it set out to do — we must recognise the 2007 Water Act was written despite national and international reports from experts confirming the Murray was not in decline and over-allocated.

The separation of land and water allowed cash-strapped farmers with banks at their doors to ‘willingly’ (unwillingly if you speak to them) sell their water to the government to survive.

The reality is that we now have a basin plan that aims to deliver an additional 3000Gl of water to the South Australian Lower Lakes (which were once estuarine) to provide a so-called freshwater solution to a historically saltwater system.

In the process, as we push water from the start to the end of the system, one third the capacity of Hume Dam is evaporated each year.

The 2007 Water Act was never about the environment, it was to gain votes in South Australian key electoral seats, usurping the fundamental rights of states over their water (clearly written into the Constitution) and thus sacrificing the basin’s irrigation industry developed over the previous century, as the major food bowl of our nation.

It is past time the leaders of this country (both federal and state) and agricultural and irrigation representative bodies admitted the massive mistake that has been inflicted on our nation.

Furthermore, they should advocate the following but necessary steps to reverse this disaster inflicted upon the food bowl of this great nation of ours:

■Re-draft the 2007 Water Act.

■Restructure the MDBA and make it accountable.

■Build a weir at Wellington.

■Instigate a dam-building policy (no dams have been built in 40 years).

—Neil Eagle

Barham, NSW

Join the club of water users ignored by MDBA

I have a message to the boating enthusiasts who are dealing with government attempts to shut down their activities in the Bundalong area along the Murray River — welcome to the world of the region’s food and fibre producers.

I have been following attempts by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and others to ban wake enhancing activities and there are so many similarities with food production it is scary.

Based on my experiences, here is some advice:

■Draft plan: MDBA-speak for ‘this is what we are going to do’.

■Consultation: MDBA-speak for ‘say what you like, but we have no intention of taking any notice or changing our draft plan’.

■Socio-economic impacts: Not something the MDBA cares about.

■Facts: See ‘socio-economic impacts’.

■Scientific evidence: If it suits the MDBA agenda its indisputable. If it doesn’t suit the agenda it doesn’t exist.

It was especially interesting to read comments from State Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy, highlighting his concerns that only five to seven per cent of river erosion seems to be contributed by boat users, with the rest attributed to the rise and fall of the river.

This rise and fall has been exacerbated by the MDBA’s philosophy of pouring water down the river, despite mounting scientific evidence of the damage being caused (refer to ‘scientific evidence’ above).

It also ignores all evidence that tells us this ‘just add water’ approach is causing a carp breeding explosion, leading to further environmental damage.

Likewise, evidence of socio-economic damage is ignored or consistently downplayed.

I note a comment from the recent public meeting at Bundalong where authorities said they thought the socio-economic impact of their proposed bans ‘‘would be minimal’’. In reality, they don’t know and they don’t care.

Food and fibre producers have been fighting for years to get some fairness into the complex issue of appropriately sharing water resources, but getting the MDBA to acknowledge its own shortcomings, or flaws in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which it implements, appears an impossible dream, despite the fact this is supposed to be an independent body.

I wish boating enthusiasts all the best in your endeavours, but suspect you will probably keep running into brick walls from a government-run body with a political agenda.

Minority groups that are collateral damage do not come into calculations.

—Nigel Hicks


‘Re-set’ brings legal implications for G-MW

Landowners will be aware that the ‘re-set’ initiative was a change of policy by Goulburn-Murray Water.

This policy relates to the implementation of the second stage of the Foodbowl Plan, with Commonwealth money.

Landowners may not be aware of the legal implications of this change of policy.

G-MW will itself do the works rather than engage independent contractors.

In my opinion, if G-MW engages an independent contractor, it has a duty to see that the contractor takes care (that is, supervises the contractor) and is liable itself to rectify damage to private land and for economic loss, including for failure to supply water, if G-MW is in breach of its duty, and loss arises, caused by the contractor’s lack of care and skill.

G-MW, in my opinion, will be liable where it could have avoided the loss by proper supervision of the contractor.

If G-MW does the work itself, it is not liable for economic loss under section 155 of the Water Act, unless it agrees in writing with the landowner that it will be.

It is wise for landowners to include a provision in their Connections agreements that the authority is liable for economic loss if works are not completed or water is not supplied on time or if land is damaged and not rectified in time.

This is especially relevant where ground is not prepared or seed not sown in time or water not provided for the autumn season and the landowner suffers economic loss as a result.

—Edwin Kennon

lawyer, Kyabram

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