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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Water Commission closure announced in 2014 Budget as Drought approaches

The speeding up and movement south of the Westerlies is bad news for farmers reliant on winter rainfall over the southern part of Australia. It comes at a time when the Murray Darling Basin is still under stress with the Abbott Government announcing the closure of the National Water Commission, which advises the Australian Government on progress on water policy issues and the accountability of State and Federal Government in this area. The closure will save $19.5 million over the next four years.

One needs to ask how much this closure may cost the Australian economy in reduced agricultural productivity through poor water management through the next period of extensive drought conditions.

“Taking the eye off water is foolhardy,” Mike Young, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University, said in e-mail to Circle of Blue. “National oversight of water is critical to the future of Australia.”

Already we have much of Queensland declared as drought stricken. Sections of western New South Wales are also in drought. (See BOM Drought Statement Rainfall deficiencies remain in Queensland and northeastern New South Wales) This is after two years of La Nina with substantial rainfall and then a neutral year. With signs an El Nino is forming in the Pacific during 2014, and a possibly a strong one, Australia needs to prepare for drought conditions in the later part of 2014 and for heightened bushfire conditions over the 2014/2015 summer.

Bureau of Meteorology past observations of El Nino years clearly shows substantial rainfall deficits for June to November in El Nino years. We need the Water Commission to ensure water is closely managed between all users and between the various state jurisdictions. Past experience has shown that State water authorities have mismanaged water allocation to the detriment of other states and environmental flows.

Jonathon La Nauze from the Australian Conservation Foundation told the Guardian:

“We live on the world’s driest continent, with a growing population and the growing problem of climate change,” he said. “Water is one of the most pressing challenges faced by the government and there’s been a bipartisan approach that has seen much progress.

“But much needs to be done to safeguard safe drinking water for people in cities and regional areas. The commission shines a light where the government can do better. It would be a dangerous move to switch this beacon off and we’d be very concerned that this would signal an end of the bipartisan approach to water.”


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