News | 12th Oct, 2010

Murray plan ‘falls short’ on climate

Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Peter Ker, The Age

Plans to cut farmers' water rights in the Murray-Darling river system have underestimated climate change, according to farming and green groups.

Commissioners from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will face irrigators at a public meeting in Shepparton today, in the first of several ''full and frank'' public forums to explain their controversial plan to cut farmers' water rights.

Despite farming groups responding with outrage at the severity of the proposed cuts, the fine detail of Friday's report suggests that a return to a wetter climate may be needed to reach some of the environmental goals. The authority presented three scenarios for returning water to the river, but indicated it preferred those that took the least water away from farmers – the minimum being 3000 billion litres of water entitlement.

The report concedes this scenario would not yield enough water for both the Coorong and Victorian red gum forests to be watered in the same year, and further analysis shows it is also contingent on a return to a wetter climate.

''This level of reduction has a high dependence on a long-term return to wetter climatic conditions across the Basin,'' the report said.

CSIRO modelling forecasts that climate change will reduce water availability across the basin by between 9 and 13 per cent, with Victoria tipped to be closer to 13 per cent drier.

The CSIRO is even more pessimistic about water availability in the dry years, predicting Victorian supplies could diminish by up to 50 per cent under the median range predictions.

Despite acknowledging a likely 10 per cent reduction in water availability by 2030, the authority chose not to factor this into its report, saying it was ''unwarranted'' given that its plan would be reviewed before 2030. The authority instead factored in a reduction of 3 per cent for climate change.

Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said she was concerned the plan ''seriously underestimates the impact of climate change''.