Water waste

By Southern Riverina News

A senior manager of the Murray Darling Basin Authority refuses to concede that river bank overflows at a time when NSW Murray Valley irrigators had no access to their water allocations to grow food is squandering an important resource.

The authority’s executive director of river management Andrew Reynolds was in Deniliquin recently to discuss the MDBA’s conveyance report with district stakeholders.

The report indicated water losses so far this water year were 665 gigalitres, and were projected to be between 850 gigalitres and 1000 gigalitres by the end of May.

In the Murray Valley, those overbank losses amount to at least 300,000 megalitres, which would underpin significant food and fibre production.

When asked by the Southern Riverina News how the MDBA could justify the losses in the local area, Mr Reynolds’ first response was ‘‘it is not wasted water’’.

‘‘Every season is different,’’ Mr Reynolds said.

‘‘While New South Wales general security (irrigation allocation) is zero, we do still need to run the system to those with allocations as needed.

‘‘With low tributary inflows we have had to use the Hume Dam.

‘‘It is not necessarily a common circumstance, but it does happen.

‘‘In this instance putting water in the forest is about meeting consumptive need.’’

Mr Reynolds also reportedly made a number of other ‘‘astonishing admissions’’ when meeting with community and farming groups in Deniliquin.

He reportedly acknowledged the MDBA is sending vast amounts of water to support an unnatural environment because that is what it has been told to do.

It admits this is having an adverse impact on upstream sections of the Murray River, but the approach is unlikely to change.

It has also finally agreed with the long-held claim of advocacy groups that the Basin Plan has a freshwater solution at the end of the system, despite these historically being estuarine waters.

Farmers from the Southern Riverina say they have been stunned by what they believe is an unacceptable waste of precious water resources.

Berrigan farmer Graeme Pyle, a long-time advocate for effective water measuring across the entire basin, said he was ‘‘absolutely staggered’’ at the admission by Mr Reynolds that total water volumes which flow down the Murray River are only measured to ‘plus or minus 20 per cent’.

‘‘On four million megalitres, that could be a difference of 800,000 megalitres and that’s a massive amount of water which is not accounted for,’’ Mr Pyle said.

‘‘He also admitted to a rolling slush fund, or volume of water, identified after the water year which may be an additional 300,000 megalitres.

‘‘So is it any wonder we don’t have any water here in the Murray Irrigation region.’’

Mr Pyle added there were no excuses for poor water measurement in the 21st century, with instruments available to measure and transmit volumes in real time to anywhere in the world at plus or minus five per cent.

‘‘You cannot manage what you do not measure, and it is clear the MDBA is not efficiently managing our precious water resources. We must highlight these inadequacies, because if we don’t the politicians and bureaucrats in ‘water world’ are none the wiser,’’ Mr Pyle said.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks, who also attended the MDBA briefing, said he too was disappointed with what he heard about the MDBA’s river management.

‘‘They do not appear to take responsibility or be accountable for losses or damage to either the environment or our economies. For the MDBA, it’s simply a matter of following the rules and sending huge volumes downstream, regardless of the consequences,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘There has been an issue for a long time about the MDBA’s refusal to acknowledge negative impacts of the Basin Plan and how it is implemented, and this is another example.’’

Mr Brooks said he would be seeking further advice on how to get improvements in the efficiency of water use and flows, but in the interim he believed it was a positive that Mr Reynolds and the MDBA have accepted that:

●The volume of the natural constraint at the Barmah Choke was less than 8,000 megalitres/day.

●The flow rate was above 9,500 megalitres/day as indicated in his report, and often closer to 14,000 meg/day, which was a loss of six gigalitres a day.

●The flows above 9,500 meg/day occurred for a period of at least 141 days.

●This equates to an additional loss to the MIL region of 846,000 megalitres.

‘‘I indicated this was about $400 million worth of productive water from our region, lost by the MDBA to supply downstream users who were not responsible for any losses and could, with the stroke of a pen, transfer their ownership back up-river from Lake Victoria to Dartmouth Dam,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘I find this an unacceptable situation that must be rectified, in the name of common-sense, protecting our communities and maximising the available water instead of wasting it.

‘‘I also find it incredible that the river operations manual for the MDBA does not mention ‘efficient operation’ in the top three priorities of its ‘objectives and outcomes’, and that ‘caring for the environment’ is also not included in these priorities.’’