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.