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Letís review Basin laws
letter published in The Australian Financial Review, 22 October 2010

(You report that Water Minister Tony Burke has sought legal advice from his department about the requirements under Water Act (“Minister seeks watertight legal advice”, October 21).

Burke has apparently  suddenly discovered that the Murray Darling Basin Authority gives primacy to the environment in determining sustainable diversion limits.

This is surprising given that the MBA’s web site states it is an integral element of the federal government program Water for the Future, which has four priorities: “tackling climate change, supporting healthy rivers, using water wisely and securing our water supplies”. No direct mention here of farmers or food supplies and, as the authority’s new “guide” confirms, the environment come first.

In practice this means trying to ensure there is a larger water flow out to sea.

But is there any scientific basis for giving priority to the environment in water withdrawals? History shows the basin has  recovered well from more severe  droughts than in the recent past.

Importantly also, statistical analysis of annual rainfall in the basin since 1900 shows no significant fall while the temperature increased in the twentieth century.  However, the hotter summer months produced statistically significant increases in rainfall, suggesting it gets wetter as the temperature warms.

In short, a strong case exists for reviewing the legislation on which the Authority operates and requiring  it to allow for the possibility of increased natural water supplies if,  as predicted, temperatures increase over time. The well-above-average rainfall in the current year should be one component in that assessment.

Des Moore
Institute for Private Enterprise
South Yarra Vic

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