November 2012

Basin Plan Becomes Law

23.11.2012 - Posted by Kane Travis
After more than 100 years of argument and conflict between the states, we now have a single, national plan for managing water in the Murray-Darling Basin. Yesterday Federal Water Minister Tony Burke signed the Basin Plan into law stating “It's a century too late, but better late than never".

Two years after releasing the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan, the final Plan will see up to 3,200 gigalitres of water returned to the river system. From 2019 it'll see 2,750 gigalitres of water returned to the Murray Darling system and that could increase to the full 3,200 with the Government hoping for another 450 gigalitres to be saved via water infrastructure improvements.

There are mixed reactions and not everyone is happy with the outcome. The Greens say it's not enough and will try and disallow the bill. But with the Opposition on board, largely there is little they can do.

Along with the Greens, Head of the New South Wales Irrigators Council, Andrew Gregson was not happy, but for the opposite reason “When all is said and done, in a number of years' time Australia will look back on this as a decision that was a bad decision in terms of our resource management and it will eventually be reinvestigated".

Jock Laurie the head of the Australian Farmers Federation was on the fence with “It is very difficult to sit down and say whether this plan is going to be balanced long-term or whether it's going to generate that longevity, that economic longevity. And working with those communities to maintain that economic base is what is going to actually allow those communities to be able to work in this environment”.

I think Tony Burke summed it all up pretty well “no jurisdiction will be 100 per cent happy, but the final plan has something that everybody can work with. If states refuse to co-operate, federal powers kick in and override them, but I genuinely don't believe it will come to that. I think I do believe we've got something that all jurisdictions will be able to work with."

Alluvium has played a key role in the Basin Plan, our work on ecosystem functions contributed to the Plan’s Sustainable Diversion Limits’s and being involved in the Monitoring and Evaluation framework for over two years gave us an opportunity to have a major influence on how the Plan measures success.

There will be ongoing debates about the numbers, however importantly, we now have a plan for the Basin and that plan has been established in Law. The challenge will be to deliver on that plan, with respect for diverse opinions and with a spirit of cooperation.


Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, annoucing the Basin Plan at the National Press Club this week

The Hetch Hetchy Ballot

19.11.2012 - Posted by Matt Francey
On the 6th of November 2012 Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the race for the US president by 332 to 206 electoral votes. Another, less publicised, ballot on that day was Proposition F in San Francisco – on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Initiative.

The initiative was controversial as, among other things, it proposed an $8M study into the removal of the O’Shaughnessy Dam from the Tuolumne River and restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. When the dam was constructed in the 1920s, a landscape that was seen by many as an equal to its neighbour, the world famous Yosemite Valley, was submerged. During a seven year campaign in the early 1900’s against the dam’s construction the naturalist and writer John Muir wrote ‘Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.’


Hetch Hetchy Valley circa 1914 (Source: http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/media_detail/611/)

Proponents of Proposition F claimed that San Francisco’s current reliance on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir could be relatively easily substituted by a mix of better water efficiency, stormwater recycling and the use of groundwater.

Opponents quoted on ballotpedia (http://ballotpedia.org/) were vocal:
• San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that the measure is "stupid" and "insane"
• The San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote it was "...a huge waste of time and money"
• The San Francisco Chronicle called it "...a misleading measure that will squander taxpayer money"

Propostion F did not fare as well as Obama. The measure was defeated: 77% to 23%. The US equivalent of the Lake Pedder campaign, I guess.

What is the Plan for the Plan?

5.11.2012 - Posted by Kane Travis
Like many people I have been trying to read between the lines to figure out what is happening with the Basin Plan. It has moved into a political realm which is way over my head, but we do appear to be getting close.

The announcement of a 3200 GL return to the environment was made by the Federal Government in early October, up from 2750 GL. This brought on the expected tirade from Victoria and NSW, with their main salvo fired on the flooding of private land issue. The 3200 GL figure was based on new modelling which showed that if some of the infrastructure constraints were removed or rules relaxed, the environmental flows achieved would meet almost all the environmental targets, particularly in South Australia which is particularly vulnerable.

Interestingly, analysis showed that the majority of the expected flooding (~84%) would occur on grazing land – exactly the type of land that benefits from flooding (it is why floodplains are so productive). At the same time, the Prime Minister announced a big (well let’s say very big) carrot of $1.77 billion over the next 10 years to invest into infrastructure, including on-farm efficiencies.

But removing many of the constraints would require changes in policy, potentially legislation, and a high level of cooperation and willingness from the states. In late October Tony Bourke issued a range of amendments to the plan, where it was again revised back down to 2750 GL, and provided a range of technical comments on its operation. Smart politics perhaps, or a rapid retreat?

The latest news is that the Basin Plan will likely be tabled before Parliament rises on November 29.

The Basin Plan represents one of the most significant environmental initiatives in Australia’s history. My vote is we just move to get it through parliament and keep the door open to the science and social impacts as we refine it in the years to come.


Murray River