Ap­ply­ing rules in dry times

Shepparton News - Country News - - OPINION -

Run­ning the Mur­ray River has al­ways been an ex­er­cise in shar­ing water — be­tween three states that own the water and be­tween the en­ti­tle­ment hold­ers who make use of it.

That means gov­ern­ments work­ing to­gether through an agreed set of rules so de­ci­sions are trans­par­ent.

The rules of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Agree­ment (as dis­tinct from the Mur­rayDar­ling Basin Plan) were set out by the state gov­ern­ments and first built into Com­mon­wealth law in 1915.

They en­sure the NSW, Vic­to­rian and South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ments can con­fi­dently al­lo­cate water to their en­ti­tle­ment hold­ers in the Mur­ray River, know­ing that re­serves are set aside for crit­i­cal hu­man needs.

While each state has its own sys­tem of al­lo­ca­tions, the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity’s job is to share the water be­tween states, store it and de­liver it when it’s or­dered by in­dus­try, by ir­ri­ga­tors and, these days, by en­vi­ron­men­tal water hold­ers.

Un­der­pin­ning the avail­abil­ity of water in the Mur­ray sys­tem is the prin­ci­ple of con­serv­ing as much water as pos­si­ble.

When times are dry peo­ple may ex­pect to see less water in the river. How­ever, af­ter sev­eral months of drought peo­ple on the Mur­ray River know there’s plenty of water mov­ing through the sys­tem at the mo­ment.

Water en­ter­ing the Mur­ray above Al­bury is shared 50:50 be­tween Vic­to­ria and NSW.

Down­stream of Al­bury, all the water en­ter­ing the river from Vic­to­ria be­longs to Vic­to­ria. All the water en­ter­ing from NSW be­longs to NSW, with the ex­cep­tion of the Dar­ling River which shares water 50:50 be­tween NSW and Vic­to­ria when water held in Menindee Lakes is plen­ti­ful.

Un­der the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Agree­ment, NSW and Vic­to­ria pro­vide South Aus­tralia with its en­ti­tle­ment.

Some of the flow cur­rently in the Mur­ray is head­ing to Lake Vic­to­ria where it will be ac­cessed in times of high de­mand by ir­ri­ga­tors and en­vi­ron­men­tal hold­ers.

MDBA river op­er­a­tors need to move water around, as is hap­pen­ing now, so it’s ac­ces­si­ble dur­ing peak de­mand. That means river lev­els are higher as we pre­pare for sum­mer while also meet­ing pre­sent day needs.

Dams right across the basin are be­ing drawn down as the hot­ter months be­gin — at the mo­ment they are 49 per cent full — and water man­agers mon­i­tor care­fully to an­tic­i­pate the needs of the com­ing sea­son.

Cur­rently, NSW has de­ter­mined that there’s suf­fi­cient water to pro­vide 97 per cent al­lo­ca­tion to those who hold the most se­cure li­cences (high-se­cu­rity) on the Mur­ray.

Un­for­tu­nately those who hold lowse­cu­rity li­cences (gen­eral se­cu­rity) on the Mur­ray cur­rently have no water al­lo­cated, and won’t have un­til NSW is as­sured they have enough water to sup­port and de­liver a one per cent al­lo­ca­tion — and there isn’t yet.

While NSW Mur­ray low-se­cu­rity water users con­tinue to have a zero al­lo­ca­tion this water year, the water car­ried over from last year can still be used. It com­prises more than half of NSW’s share of water in the Mur­ray sys­tem at the mo­ment.

Ir­ri­ga­tors own about 80 per cent of that car­ry­over water, which they can de­cide to use or sell. The en­vi­ron­men­tal water hold­ers own about 20 per cent.

Mean­while there is rea­son­able water avail­abil­ity in Vic­to­ria with al­lo­ca­tions in the two main sys­tems mak­ing steady im­prove­ment through the sea­son.

That’s be­cause what rain we have had has fallen mainly in Vic­to­ria, where there are dif­fer­ent ar­range­ments for al­lo­cat­ing water to li­cence hold­ers.

I recog­nise that con­tin­u­ing zero al­lo­ca­tions for NSW low-se­cu­rity li­cence hold­ers make it par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing to make busi­ness de­ci­sions about what to plant go­ing into sum­mer.

Should the drought con­tinue none of us know with cer­tainty what the state of water re­sources will be at the start of the next water year — that de­pends on how much it rains in the next six months.

I urge ev­ery­one who uses water to be plan­ning ahead for all sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that al­lo­ca­tions do not im­prove and con­di­tions stay dry.

By Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive Phillip Glyde

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