Monday, October 25, 2010

Our Not-So-Civil Water War

Th!nk About It has a new blogging competition: Th!nk4: Climate Change. It is an extension of Th!nk2.

My first post:

Australia’s Not-So-Civil Water War

We’ve just returned from three weeks in North Western Victoria and parts of New South Wales. It was unwitting research for Th!nk4: Climate Change. Our plan was to visit a number of national parks on or near the Murray-Darling river system. It’s an area that has been under extreme environmental pressures because of the harsh drought that devastated Australia for much of this century and the competing demands for water.

We started well, staying at the Wyperfeld and Hattah-Kulkyne National Parks in Victoria. By the second week, heavy rain at Lake Mungo NP not only closed the unsealed road after our swift retreat but also heralded a dose of wet weather that finally brought an end to official drought conditions in New South Wales. Even Melbourne’s dams were half-full after hovering at 25% most of last year. Floods have become common headlines this year across eastern Australia.

These climate extremes are not new. “Droughts and flooding rains” are an Aussie cliché. But the severity of the drought, record high temperatures and horrific bushfires have focussed national attention on the vexed issues surrounding changing climate.

You’d think the rain would bring optimism but that is not the case in Australia’s food bowl. During our trip a consultation document (actually a Guide to a Draft Basin Plan) was released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The Authority is charged by legislation with developing a plan that returns the river basin to environmental health while maximising “economic returns to the Australian community from the use and management of the Basin water resources”. It is also required to “tackle climate change”.

The Guide recommends reductions in water allocations of between 27% and 37%. The big loser would be agriculture, especially irrigators.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has an online explanation of and ongoing updates. One of its ABC TV news reports captured the ‘tea party’ mood communities have shown at consultation meetings.

As the Authority has attempted visited rural towns, the Guide has been burned. Farmers have worn black armbands. Personal abuse has substituted for dialogue.

Lower rainfall is predicted for the basin as a result of climate change. If these warnings prove correct, the battles for a share of the diminishing water resources can only hot up.

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