An inquiry into the management of environmental water has been welcomed, but it should have a broader focus.
Shelley Scoullar from the Speak Up Campaign Inc. believes the inquiry should not only consider the efficiency of environmental water delivery in the Murray-Darling Basin, but also how much environmental water the Basin needs.
A House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into the management and use of environmental water and the role of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) in determining how it should be used was announced last week. It will also consider how the impact of environmental water is monitored and evaluated.
Mrs Scoullar said although the inquiry was welcome, the finding would be limited by its terms of reference. The committee’s chair, Andrew Broad MP, has stated it would not be inquiring into the broader Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
She said the acquisition and use of environmental water is intricately linked to the Basin Plan so it is difficult to understand how they can be kept separate. However, at least the inquiry will question the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental water, which should have been done years ago.
“The problem with excluding the Basin Plan from the inquiry is that the environmental targets which the CEWH has to meet are set by the Basin Plan. As such, to ensure the environmental water portfolio is being used efficiently the baseline data and benchmarking of the plan need to be assessed.”
Mrs Scoullar added food and fibre producers and the water delivery systems on which they rely have drastically improved their efficiency in the Southern Basin and it is reasonable to expect a similar level of accountability from environmental water.
“Virtually every drop used in the Southern Basin to put food on the table for Australians and people throughout the world is accounted for; we should expect the same from the nation’s largest water holder.
“Food and fibre producers have embraced the latest technologies and advances in research and development. The CEWH must also be adaptive and use the latest available science and evidence. ”
Mrs Scoullar said claims around the amount of water needed for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin had changed significantly in the 10 to 15 years before it was legislated, as green activists with political clout promoted the false view that the Murray system was dying.
“Much of this occurred during the Millennium Drought amid fear-mongering that ‘it will never rain again’. Since the drought broke we have not had detailed research on how much environmental water is needed, let alone how much can be effectively delivered.
“At this stage all we have is a preconceived number that keeps changing depending on the political climate, not the environmental needs. Instead we should have rigorous monitoring and evaluation to determine genuine environmental requirements. This number needs to be adaptive and flexible to ensure human needs are not sacrificed to achieve politically motivated and questionable environmental targets.
“This is especially so when the flow targets do not take into account all system environmental solutions – in particular those at ‘end of system’ – or the capacity to actually deliver them.
“Local knowledge and experience, instead of unreliable computer modelling, should be part of the process.”
For further information and interviews: Shelley Scoullar Speak Up Campaign Chair email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0414 960 785