A student from RMIT (a Melbourne University) is doing a project on water and has asked me how environmental water is allocated.
There is no national or state-wide ledger (or website) showing how environmental water is acquired and allocated.
The following example is based on information that I have received from the NSW Murray Wetland Working Group Inc..
In the year 2000 this newly formed wetland working group was given a yearly allocation of 30,000 megalitres of water from ‘water saving’ made by Murray Irrigation Ltd..
The environmental water was to be used to save red gums, water wetlands and can also be traded.
This is how the group used their water over the first four years of their operation:
26,000 megs to water Barmah-Millewah Redgum forest
1,500 megs to Wanganella Swamp
2,500 megs traded
4,500 megs used to water Werai State Forest and
800 megs used to water wetlands on private properties
15,000 megs traded
3,945 megs used to water wetlands on private properties
23,000 megs traded
The 23,000 megs was traded at the height of the drought when water was selling for a premium. The 23,000 megs was sold for $3.8 million. Much of the money from this trade was apparently used to build a fish ladder.
7,510 megs used to water wetlands on private properties
1,600 megs used to water Gulpa Creek Reed Beds Swamp and Duck Lagoon
950 megs used to water Pollacks Swamp
550 megs used to water Thegoa Lagoon
11,910 megs traded
Totals for each year do not necessarily equal 32,000 megs as the allocation is nominal and dependent on the allocation within the Murray Valley.
When I asked the Murray Darling Basin Commission in June 2004 how much water wetland working groups have been nominally allocated overall and how this water is generally applied I was informed, “I am not able to advise you of the volume of environmental water throughout the Basin. Environmental water comes in a variety of forms including:
Environmental flow rules
Details of some of these entitlements can be found in the NSW water sharing plans.”
There is a lot of money potentially involved in managing environmental water. Yet it is difficult to access the most basic information.
I suggest there is a need for the type of information detailed here to be pubicly available for all wetland working groups and other managers of environmental water.
There should also be reports showing the environmental benefits of the water allocations as well as how the money from the trades is spent.
When I last contacted the Murray Wetland Working Group (September 2004) they were undertaking no monitoring work as such.