Water crisis demands action, not talkfests

Opinion: Water crisis demands action, not talkfests

Opinion
Peter Austin says we must do something (other than talk) to trap more of the excess water that runs off this vast continent and direct it to productive use.

Peter Austin says we must do something (other than talk) to trap more of the excess water that runs off this vast continent and direct it to productive use.

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Opinion: As would be readily apparent to anyone flipping through the news and opinion pages of last week's edition of The Land, the over-riding issue now dominating rural debate is water.

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As would be readily apparent to anyone flipping through the news and opinion pages of last week's edition of The Land, the over-riding issue now dominating rural debate is water.

Without water, we are all dead, along with the plants and animals that share the planet with us, so it's scarcely surprising that in a drought that now ranks in many areas as the worst in our settled history, water - and the management of it - has taken centre stage.

The debate centres on two main questions: how to better harness our natural resources so that more water can be captured, and how most equitably to share what water we have among competing users.

On the first question, it was pertinent to note at a press conference last week that Water Resources Minister David Littleproud used the opportunity to try and lay to rest any thoughts of resurrecting the 1930s Bradfield scheme to divert excess northern water southwards.

Meanwhile we read in The Land last week of NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey's frustration with her own departmental bureaucrats and their apparent negativity towards further dam building.

To many of us, it's a no-brainer that we must do something (other than talk) to trap more of the excess water that runs off this vast continent and direct it to productive use.

A dusted-off Bradfield scheme may not be the answer, as the engineering challenges might well defeat its feasibility, but that's not to say we should rule out all further consideration of large-scale water diversion projects.

Nor should we dismiss the notion of building more dams in NSW, both within the Murray-Darling Basin and along the eastern fall of the Great Divide, from where impounded water could be piped inland.

Any solution will be costly, but how cockeyed are our national priorities when we can commit $90 billion to a fleet of French submarines that will almost certainly be obsolete by the time we get them, while crying poor over the cost of a dam or two!

Then we have the related issue of how best to make use of what water we have, and here it's worth noting the wise words in The Land last week of SunRice chairman Laurie Arthur.

Highlighting the historical massive variability of our inland rivers, he warned that the price-driven redirection of irrigation water from annual crops to permanent plantings would "end in tears" for investors and affected rural communities alike.

The practicality of irrigated crops like rice and cotton, compared to nut trees, is that you plant them when there's water to be had, and when there isn't, you don't.

But whether the Murray-Darling Basin Plan's shortcomings warrant another Royal Commission - as proposed by NSW Farmers - is a moot point.

It could be a case of "be careful what you wish for".

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