SOUTH Australia needs to steady its horses on its demands for the extra 450 gigalitres it was promised in 2012 as part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
The 450GL, announced at the eleventh hour to get the southern-most Basin state to sign up to Labor’s deal, was purely a political play by then federal Water Minister Tony Burke. It was easy for him to smugly announce what amounted to a deal sweetener, knowing it was most likely some other government that would have to deal with the fall-out.
What is perhaps most frustrating about SA’s demands is its arrogance that it should get that water regardless of upstream effects and with no willingness to accept the Basin Plan will take time to sustainably reach its outcomes. This indicates SA’s government has little concern for upstream impacts, including issues around constraints, job losses and fish kills.
The fact the water recovery target in the Northern Basin has been reduced should suggest to SA its demands – at least for now – are unrealistic. Bigger challenges exist in the system, such as how the 2750GL target can be delivered without causing further damage to communities and the environment – two key outcomes the plan is supposed to achieve. Recent floods have shown this to be a real problem.
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair’s stance on refusing to allow more buy-backs to occur at the expense of local communities was further justified last week, when Dr John Conallin, a researcher with the UNESCO-IHE initiative for sustainable water management, highlighted how those rolling out the Basin Plan had in fact overlooked its guiding principals, including adaptive management and localism.
Better strategies are needed to accommodate the need for healthy communities in the basin. Without the people in the river landscape, who are we saving the river for? The fixation on reaching arbitrary volumes is futile if it’s done so at the expense of river and community health.
So while government chips away at these outcomes, South Australia needs to stop feeling hard done by because it hasn’t got its 450GL, and realise if this plan is going to be fully implemented with positive outcomes, it is going to take time.
If its only goal is to get its hands on 450GL purely to fulfill a sense of entitlement, then its greed will cost the river its health, damaging communities in all states.