Water – The Next Target For Environmentalists (Part 2)

Posted on Tue 09/16/2008 by


The Global Warming Climate Change debate is pretty big here in Australia and has been for some time now, bubbling under as one of the hot button items that people are following.
One of the big things about this argument is the health of the Murray Darling River basin.
In the big scheme of things, the Murray Darling is only the 18th longest river on the Planet, and even though it’s only half the length of the Mississippi Missouri, it is one of the World’s major river systems.
You’ll look at that list of huge rivers and see that the water flowing out into the World’s oceans is quite huge, while the outflow from the Murray Darling is as low as only 5 to 10% of those larger rivers, and therein lies the problem.
The water from this Australian system is used along the way, allocated by Governments from the 4 States that the system flows through, used as water supplies for major towns in the more than 1.2 million square kilometres the system covers. It is also allocated as irrigation for the huge farming communities in that area as well.

Murray Darling River Basin Click on image to open in a larger window.

The problem lies where the River flows out into Great Southern Ocean at Lake Alexandrina.
Because outflow is so low, that lake, backing up into the Coorongs is gradually becoming saltier as the Ocean backs up into it. The outflow of fresh water into these Coorongs has diminished to such an extent that the environment of the area is changing, as the surrounding area becomes more salt laden. The Coorongs are a series of smaller lakes surrounding the major Lake Alexandrina.

Because of this, the current talk is that too much water has been allocated along the length of the two rivers, and that to restore this area to its former state, then those water allocations need to be reviewed, and drastically cut so that more fresh water will reach the mouth of the river.
This story appeared on the Australian media reports dealing with water buybacks on river systems in Queensland, to the North of the Darling, but still flowing into it and adding content to the flow.

As you can see from the map, most of those rivers in that vast area flow into both the Murray and the Darling Rivers. The Murray rises in the Snowy Mountains and the Darling flows into the Murray at Wentworth. The Darling extends further into the North East of New South Wales, far above where the blue line stops on the map,
In Queensland in the North, the rivers that flow into the Darling have their waters allocated to cropping, both for food crops such as wheat and also the large cotton fields in that area. One thing the Queensland Government also did was to regulate the water on those large farms. All of them have large dams on their properties, mostly just huge holes in the ground to collect rainwater, and most of them not even connected to any of the rivers. The Government legislated that all farms must record their inflows into those dams, and forward that paperwork to the government who then taxes the amount of water in those dams, effectively meaning that all the farms pay tax on the rain that falls on their properties. Clever, eh!

When you look at that map, you’ll see a large town almost in the middle of the map, that town being called Bourke. Currently, there are half a dozen major farms upstream of Bourke that are on the market, mostly large wheat farms.
Environmentalists have called upon the new Federal Government to buy these farms with taxpayers money, let them convert back to their natural state, declare them as National Parks, and release the water back into the Darling. That Government has already purchased one of them with that exact view.
The thing is that water experts have said that even if the Government were to buy up them all, and leave that water to flow down, not one drop of it will reach the Coorongs at the river mouth. You may think rightly so, because that water will then be taken off by farms further downstream. What the experts say is that even if every drop was left in the river, and none it added to downstream allocations, then ALL of that water will have evaporated before it even joins with the Murray. There’s the stupidity in the whole argument.
Still, environmentalists are calling for all water allocations to be purchased back by the Government, so, in effect, no water at all is allocated for crops.

Man, don’t you just love environmentalists. They grow all their own food in their back yards and expect the rest of us to do the same.

So then, why are those large farms on the market in the first place? Because farmers are not getting the return for their crops. So many food producing farms have gone under because the amount of money they get back at harvest, no matter what the crop, does not even cover the costs of producing that crop. It’s cheaper for the farmer to plough the crop in rather than harvest it and send it for sale. Then the farmers just walk away, mostly with huge debts, some of those farms having been in the one family for generations, and some as far back as the early to mid 1800’s.
It’s cheaper for the big grocery chains to import their food from overseas, and if the local farmers cannot compete, they just go under. That’s the tragedy of it all.

A similar situation occurred a few years back with the Snowy River. This river is in the southeast corner of Australia, not shown on this map, at the bottom right on the map, as you look at it. The headwaters of that river rise in the Snowy Mountains. Before the great engineering marvel, the Snowy Hydro Scheme went in that river flooded consistently after huge snow melt combined with rain. After the Scheme went in, flooding stopped completely. The river still flowed. Environmentalists were concerned about some of the wetland habitats of birds drying out and wanted larger outflows from the dams in the hydro scheme. It eventually led to the defeat of a long serving and respected politician in the area when he was ganged up against at the polls. An Independent was elected with the promise that he would see river flows increased. That did come to pass, and the upstream dam in the Snowy Mountains is now forced to let that river run free.

So the argument that effectively started with the Snowy River is now crossing over onto the larger system.

The end result. More farms will be forced to the wall. More food will have to be imported. Costs of that food will obviously rise. People will pay more for food. Farmers will walk off their properties with huge debt. The Commonwealth will own the land, and turn it into National Parks that no one will visit. The water will be released back into the rivers, and will then evaporate back into the sky long before it even gets where it is needed most.
Next, the environmentalists will be asking that we blow up those dams.

Mark my words. Water comes next.