The Australian government is currently in the process of finalising the purchase of just 35 gigalitres (billion litres) of water from the public tender process announced on 26 February 2008 whereby $50 million was allocated in the 2007-08 budget to buy back water in the Murray Darling Basin.
This is a very small amount of water at least relative to the 500 to 3,500 gigalitres that politicians from the different sides of politics promised over recent federal elections.
Nevertheless I applaud the government for releasing the figures and maybe through the process there has been a realization that water is expensive and also that purchasing a water licence doesn’t necessarily guarantee water. Indeed a licence only means an allocation when there is some water in storage.
Yesterday, Water Minister Penny Wong announced that there is not enough water currently in the Murray Darling system to fill South Australia’s Lower Lakes.
“Even if we did make a decision to not give any allocation, there is insufficient water currently in storage, less the critical human needs issue, for us to viably manage the lower lakes with the amount of water we have.”
At last the Water Minister is speaking sense.
The $50 million is part of $3.1 billion in the National Action Plan first announced by then Prime Minister John Howard as an emergency measure to save the Murray River in early 2007.
Interestingly, according to Farm Online: “The departmental report shows the Government paid an average of $2124/ML for high security water and $1131/ML for NSW general security and Victorian low reliability licences.”
You can watch the ABC Online video clip in which the Water Minister states there is not enough water for the lower lakes here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2008/08/06/2326382.htm.
The commentary from the ABC journalist, Josie Taylor, is full of errors including the claim that building a weir “would flood the lower lakes with salt water.” Of course the lower lakes should be flooded with sea water now. A weir would simply limit the upstream movement of seawater. Furthermore the announcement by Minister Wong to not send more water down to the lakes is not the “kiss of death”, as suggested by Ms Taylor, there are alternatives including opening the barrages as discussed at earlier blog posts including Stop Complaining About the Lower Murray And Open the Barrages posted on June 18, 2008.
Jan Pompe says
this is an interesting shift but I’m wondering if there is much substance to what Dr Arlene Buchan is saying toward then end about water availability in the northern basin. Do you know?
Helen Mahar says
A South Australian Pollie with the ticker to tell South Australians like it is. You have to respect that.
The talk back radio has been pretty lively on this right. Urban supplies will be protected. Using “the market” to get it from irrigators has proved disappointing. (If, as some loudly claim, there is plenty of water available, then the price offered must be too low.) But not mentioned is that over the last two decades a lot of water has been allocated to environmental flows, increasing pressure on irrigation and urbam supplies. (A fact, not a judgement.)Is it now time to prioritise the value of each environmental allocation and re-jig? EG how much diverted from the Snowy River would make it, after evaporation and seepage, to the lower lakes? Environmental benefit to Lower Lakes vs Environmental costs to Snowy?
Ian Mott says
So can we just confirm that the $2124/ML was the capital cost of the whole allocation rather than the cost of a single megalitre?
If the former, as is most likely, then the cost of an actual megalitre would then be about $200 each. And for most environmental flows (but not pissing it into an artificial lake for purely evaporative purposes) the question then becomes, “how far back up stream can one pump a megalitre of water for $200?”
Most environmental flows can be recycled back upstream to flow again the very next day, and the next in perpetuity. As long as the pumping cost is less than the market price of water then the activity is profitable. So instead of 365 megalitres flowing down a creek at the rate of 1 megalitre per day, we can pump the same megalitre back up stream 365 times a year to achieve the same flow outcome (less seepage and evaporation of course).
The Snowy river is particularly suited to this because the severely depleted upper reaches form a very large U shape that would involve only a short pumping distance to supply a much longer river trajectory.
See “Snow Job on the Snowy River” at http://ianmott.blogspot.com/2006/11/snow-job-on-snowy-river.html
The water saved could then be used for a range of purposes through the existing infrastructure to the Murray basin. But maintaining fresh water in what was, and should be, a tidal estuary is not one of them.
Dare I say it, Wong may well be a mandarin but she is clearly not yellow. (pun for chinese speakers only)
The price offered for water was much to low. All they got was water from those irrigators who have no money left, no income due to low or no allocation and the bank banging on their door. These people now have lost a large part of their ability to earn an income as any future crops they grow will only rely on rainfall.
The federal government has now said there is no water available to fill the SA lakes and the SA’s are saying the lakes have turned saline and will turn acid. There is only one solution, open the barrages. The salt will be flushed out in the future if the fresh water is available, but if the lake bed dries out and exposes the acid sulphate soils the situation will be much worse and possibly unrecoverable.
Ian Mott says
Government as predator on the weak and vulnerable? Yep, the full sleazy “carpet bagging” speculators MO brought to you by those who deliver government “of the people, for the spivs, by the spivs”.
I agree, Goodoo, but they won’t see common sense because it didn’t google up in the literature review. And they will get the environment they deserve.
One solution would be to organise a few busloads of up-river folk to go down and dismantle the damned barrage by hand. Provoke a good brawl with the locals so it gets some headlines (and maybe thump some sense into a few blockheads) and make sure that bimbo Mayor flows in with the first tide.
“Penny Wong Federal Water Minister’ Department has spent $50m of tax payers money on water buyback.
$50m for about 10 swimming pools of water. Shadow minister John Cobb says most of what they have bought is general security water. As a result no water will returned to the Murray Darling and smart farmers have pocketed $50m for air space in empty storage dams. Score card – Farmers +$50m, Government 0/0, Environment 0/0, Tax payers -$50m”
from Agmates News
Earl Ricpe says
The Federal Govt purchased water through a tender process. The $2124/ML was the average price for High Security Entitlement. For NSW High Security Entitlement, on the first of August 2008 the Allocation Announcement was 30% on the Murrumbidgee and 25% for NSW Murray.
The $1131/ML included NSW General Security Entitlement. For NSW General Security both Murrumbidgee and Murray river systems the Announced Allocation was Zero.
The next NSW Murray/Murrumbidgee Allocation Announcement is due on the fifteenth of the month.
Although Entitlement is expressed in Megalitres, Entitlement is not water, it is “a share of the available water resource”, so if there is no water resource, then buying up Entitlement will result in zero deliverable water to the holder of the Entitlement.
Temporary water trade is trade of deliverable water. Last week’s price was $500/ML of deliverable water. Most of this was carry over from last season.
Earl Ricpe 11Aug2008.
I can’t understand this ridiculous hue and cry about these lakes.
They’re carrying on as if the lakes have a “God-given Right” to be salt-free, when the reality is that they have only become “fresh” since the barrages were built!
Before that, they were anywhere from salty as the sea, to brackish.
Where has reality disappeared to in this debate?