Water Journal : Current Feb 2016
www.awa.asn.au 45 Smack-bang in the middle of where El Niño hits Australia hardest, action has been taken to strengthen the Basin's health through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Despite the current El Niño having a major impact on inflows, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) Executive Director of River Management David Dreverman is confident those who depend on the basin will get by, thanks to reasonable volumes in their storages, particularly Dartmouth Dam. "If they've survived the last 16 years, they should survive this one. Our concern is more if it continues," Dreverman said. "Reserves in the southern Basin get you through one year of dry but they don't get you through two. That means we will be solely dependent on rainfall and run-off this winter and spring." But Dreverman said the Murray-Darling Basin is in much better condition now than during the El Niño of 2006 -- the Basin's driest inflow year on record -- and will continue to be so even if inflows remain similarly low over the next few years, thanks to post-Millennium Drought upgrades. "Victoria introduced individual carry-over for irrigators, state governments changed the way they allocate water, we got a little more conservative about estimating future inflows and we've put away conveyance reserves to make sure we can deliver water next year. We've also got a drought reserve that we've put aside in the Snowy Scheme, and some of the water trade barriers have been removed," Dreverman said. But irrigators and farmers shouldn't rely on government policies to get through the hard times. "Next year is looking more like what we saw through the Millennium Drought than what people might realise," Dreverman said. He said individual irrigators can balance their risk by carrying over more water next year. "At the moment, people might be tempted to sell water because the water market is at a good price, but hanging on to a bit of water would be prudent risk management," he said. PUSHING BACK Not everyone shares MDBA's confidence. In November, a Senate inquiry into the Basin Plan heard about deep uncertainty within the farming sector following the water reforms, with the depth of opposition prompting some landholders to call for a Royal Commission. Water trading and environmental flows have come in for special criticism, with the NSW Irrigators' Council CEO Mark McKenzie sharing his concerns. "The purchase of water for the environment has shortened the pool of water for temporary trade back into productive DRY, DUSTY ROOTS OF A NATION Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole, Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee; And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag, 'You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.'... It might be Australia's most recognisable song, but it's a rarely appreciated fact that Waltzing Matilda was born from the harsh realities of the Federation Drought, which led to economic crisis, mass unemployment, and many of the nation's swagmen desperate for food and work. Banjo Paterson wrote the nation's unofficial anthem one year into the eight-year drought while staying in western Queensland in 1895. From state to state, the drought sucked the life from previously fertile landscape, but united the country in the process. As the creek beds continued to dry in 1901, so too did the ink on Australia's Constitution."The drought recognised no borders. This arguably had two effects. One was to enforce the sense of common identity and shared adversity as 'Australians'," writes climate historian Don Garden. "Second, the common experiences of economic hardship during the drought also made many colonists more aware of the potential financial benefits of political unity." The rainfall deficit, heatwaves, dust storms and bushfires during this period were the result of three El Niño events in quick succession. Newspaper articles at the time report of mass breakouts in disease and death due to poor water quality and a lack of sanitation. "The sky a great, flaming oven. Grass withered; water gone; famine- stricken, blear-eyed bullocks, staggering pathetically," wrote The Sydney Bulletin during the drought's climax in June 1902 during a visit to western Queensland. "Skeletons and bones everywhere. A fetid smell in the air. The hateful crow flickering from carcase (sic) to carcase in fiendish exultation. A sleepless night, battling with mosquitoes and other insect pests. Daylight, and a repetition of the same thing." The nation wouldn't receive consistent and widespread rainfall relief until March 1903, with a moderate La Niña event replenishing large swathes of the country. And while the environmental landscape would eventually revert back to its old self in years to come, the nation's political landscape and psyche would remain forever changed. THE 2006--07 EL NIÑO WAS CLASSIFIED AS WEAK BY THE BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY YET ITS IMPACT ON AUSTRALIA'S EAST COAST -- AND FURTHER INLAND -- WAS DEVASTATING .
Water Journal November 2015
Current May 2016