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Water & Drought News
This page features important updates on the drought and the water levels throughout Australia.
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Exit packages add up to $4000/ML for water
Alison Barber, 24 Sep. 2008 - full article
A new benchmark environmental water payment of effectively $4000 a megalitre offered to small irrigators this week may herald a long-overdue breakthrough in the Federal Government’s beleagured campaign to buy substantial volumes of water.
For the first time since launching its widely-criticised $3.1 billion buyback, the Government has offered a combined package which addresses calls for some form of structural adjustment by incorporating an additional payment over and above the market price of water, in this case a $150,000 irrigation exit grant.
Federal Water Minister Penny Wong announced on Saturday that eligible irrigators on less than 15 hectares who sold their water into the environmental buyback and got out of irrigation would be paid the grant.
Industry sources say as most of those likely to qualify have holdings of around 100 megalitres, the $150,000, taken on top of a market price of $2500/ML would equate to around $4000/ML.
The package is expected to secure 48,000ML of water, but with SA allocations on 11pc this year and some water already used or sold, is unlikely to provide any substantial relief to the lower lakes in the short term.
Irrigator groups said although the grants were still a scattergun approach, ill-defined and only available to small irrigators - primarily Riverland and Sunraysia grapegrowers and some stone fruit growers - the willingness to combine different programmes with complementary aims to add up to a market premium price was “a step in the right direction”.
Victorian irrigators immediately said if the Federal Government offered a similar price to larger irrigators, many would be prepared to hand over water and go back to the table to discuss relaxing the four per cent annual trade limit which currently stands in the way of large scale Commonwealth purchases of Victorian water.
Victorian Farmers Federation water spokesman Richard Anderson said a mix of buyback plus on farm infrastructure investment which added up to $4000/ML would allow farmers to lift water use efficiency and maintain or boost productivity using less water.
“Market price alone is not enough,” he said. “There is no reason why they couldn’t combine the $5.8bn infrastructure money with the $3.1bn buyback.
“If they offered $4000/ML I’d be quite happy to hand over 50ML and spend the money on farm. I could put in a totally automated system to match the automated food bowl system. Those systems are there, but they are out of reach of the average bloke.
“I would stay in irrigation, my productivity doesn’t drop, the local factory doesn’t have to close, the local businesses stay open because I am still buying and the towns don’t need structural adjustment.”
Basin wide water storage remains critically low
Thursday, 7 August 2008 by the Murray Darling Basin Commission
Water held in public storages across the Murray-Darling Basin is estimated to be at only 21 per cent
of total capacity. Water in private storages is also at low levels.
That’s the main finding of a Basin wide preliminary collection of public and private storage carried
out by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission over the past week.
Acting Chief Executive Mr Les Roberts said figures supplied by all basin partner governments
estimated that, at the end of July, total public active storage held was about 4800 GL. The capacity
is 22,609 GL. (Active storage is water which can be released using only gravity).
“Most of this water is already earmarked for critical human needs and a small amount is held as
carry over or announced allocations,” Mr Roberts said.
Carry over water is already “owned” by users who chose to carry over part of the water available to
them last year for use this year.
“The amount of water currently available for use as a carry over or already allocated is about 1400
GL or only 6 per cent of capacity.
“Some areas of the Basin are still in deficit meaning they do not have enough water to cover the
delivery of even water for critical human, stock and domestic needs and will be relying on further
inflows to their dams to make up the shortfall,” Mr Roberts said.
“Estimates from partner governments show that private storages in the north of the Basin are
estimated to be holding about 810 GL - which is less than estimates being reported in the media. In
the southern Basin, private storage is spread across many smaller farm dams.”
Mr Roberts said the MDBC had also released a fact sheet today showing the water needs at the
“Given the current level of storage it’s not feasible to refill the lakes by transferring water from
other parts of the Basin without any further significant rain.
“As little as 20 per cent of any water released in the north of the Basin would reach the Lower
Lakes in South Australia, meaning that four or five times the water needed at the lakes would need
to be released from that far upstream.
“Management of many issues in the Basin are now heavily reliant on inflows over late winter and
spring and governments will need to maintain flexibility to manage the situation based on real time
information,” Mr Roberts said.
A copy of the fact sheet on Lower Lakes is available at www.mdbc.gov.au
Murray-Darling Basin drought is getting worse
Thursday, 10 July 2008 by the Murray Darling Basin Commission
The drought in the Murray-Darling Basin is getting worse with June inflows the lowest on record and
autumn inflows only just above the record lows of 2007.
That’s the grim news in the Murray-Darling Basin Commission’s (MDBC) latest Drought Update released
Chief Executive Dr Wendy Craik AM said inflows in June were 95 GL, lower than the previous record low
of 106 GL June 2006. In June 2007 inflows were 220 GL. The long term average is 680 GL.
Inflows during autumn this year were 200 GL, just above the lowest on record of 195 GL in autumn 2007.
The long term average is 806 GL.
“This is very disappointing and the likelihood of upper Murray inflows being above average for the
remainder of winter and spring is very low,” Dr Craik said. “And until there is significant rain and run-off,
the prospects for irrigation and the environment in 2008-09 remain grim.
“2008-09 is shaping up to be a very tough year for water availability and there is likely to be continuing
pressure on the riverine environment. The new water year is also likely to pose operational challenges with
low river flows and varying weir pool levels.
“The most recent seasonal climate outlook issued by the Bureau of Meteorology shows a shift in the odds
towards drier than average conditions in across the Murray-Darling Basin from July to September, including
the high yielding catchments of the upper Murray and its tributaries.”
For the year ending June 2008, total inflows to the Murray River System - excluding Darling inflows and
Snowy Scheme releases - was 2,220 GL which was the 6th lowest in 117 years of records and only 25 % of
the long term average of 8,900 GL.
“Critical water for human needs (including stock and domestic) for 2008-09 is reasonably assured for those
who draw their water from the main stem of the Murray. However, we need inflows that are higher than the
minimum used for planning to assure water is available to those who take water from anabranches or major
Dr Craik said headwater storage levels were slightly higher than the record low levels of this time last year
(due to higher levels of carryover) but were still well below average.
“The water level in the Lower Lakes has temporarily stabilised, but unless there is a significant improvement
in water availability for South Australia, the outlook for the next 12 months is extremely poor.
“Pumping water from Lake Alexandrina which began in early May, is maintaining Lake Albert at its current
level and preventing further exposure of sulphidic sediments. However, we are also looking at further
management options for the Lower Lakes for the 2008-09 season and beyond,” Dr Craik said.
Dr Craik said the MDBC’s river operations would continue to maximise water availability by reducing
evaporation and transmission losses along the river system.
A copy of the latest Drought Update is available at www.mdbc.gov.au
Do you want some good news?
In the midst of the drought, there is a solution to help farmers and irrigators save precious water resources.
Read more at the Enviro Dam Cover overview page