Water Journal : Water Journal April 2011
interview water APRIL 2011 63 Some irrigators deny that water in the Basin has been over-allocated. Do you agree? Over-allocation of water in the Murray-Darling Basin is generally well-accepted and well-documented. This is demonstrated by the fact that in 1995 all Basin water ministers agreed to an interim Cap on surface water diversions, which became permanent from 1 July, 1997. Then in 2004, the Council of Australian Governments reinforced and extended these strategic water reforms through the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Water Initiative. The amount of surface water diverted for consumptive use by towns, industry and irrigation has increased from about 2,000 GL/year in the 1920s to a peak of about 12,000 GL/year in the late 1990s. Similar increases in groundwater use have also occurred over time. The overallocation of water is most obviously reflected in the declining ecological condition of many of the Basin's river systems. Is there justification for delaying the Basin Plan given recent drought-breaking rains? Feedback from stakeholders has recommended that we finalise the Basin Plan on schedule to create certainty for the future. With this current wet period, we have an opportunity to discuss water planning issues with stakeholders who are not experiencing the challenges of a drought but who are highly aware of the impact of very low inflows due to the recent dry period. We want to learn the lessons from the last drought while they are fresh in people's minds and build our capacity to cope into the future. There has been criticism of the Guide's perceived emphasis on environmental protection over social and economic considerations. Must one always trade off the environment for social and economic gain, or can the three be integrated? My interpretation of the Water Act is that a balance must be reached for the whole of the Basin encompassing environmental, economic and social factors, which leads to the sustainable use and management of the Basin's water resources. There has been criticism of the science underpinning the Guide to the Basin Plan. Do you feel this criticism is justified? If so, what do you think needs to be improved? We have used, and will continue to use, the best available science, internationally peer-reviewed, to inform the development of the Basin Plan. However, the Authority Craig Knowles, former NSW Planning Minister, has been appointed as Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, following the resignation of Mike Taylor. Mr Knowles has taken on a challenging role given controversy following release of the Authority's Guide to the Basin Plan late last year, and heavy rainfall over parts of the Basin which has led to calls for implementation of a Basin Plan to be delayed. AWA National Policy Manager Andrew Speers conducted the following interview in which Mr Knowles gave his answers to some of the most pertinent questions surrounding the issue. Murray-Darling Basin: How Do We Get it Right? The Hon. Craig Knowles was a State Minister for Planning and Housing (1995--1999), Health (1999--2003), Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (2003--August 2005) and Forests and Lands (2003--January 2005). He was responsible for a range of Government Agencies including: Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Lands Department, Sydney Water, Hunter Water, Landcom and State Forests, and was a member of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. Prior to entering Parliament, Mr Knowles had worked in property, land management, planning and valuation, in both the private sector (1978--1986) and for NSW public sector agencies, including Macarthur Development Corporation, Premier's Department, Office of State Development and Department of Business and Consumer Affairs (1986--1990). Mr Knowles is widely credited, along with the then Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, as a key driver of the National Water Initiative in 2003 and 2004. The overall objective of the National Water Initiative is to achieve a nationally compatible market, regulatory and planning based system of managing surface and groundwater resources for rural and urban use that optimises economic, social and environmental outcomes. Hume Dam, 16km west of Albury-Wodonga.
Water Journal March 2011
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