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Basin holds little water

Friday, 8th August, 2008

A new estimate of the amount of water now held in storage across the Murray-Darling Basin has shut the gate on demands from across the border for extra releases from Menindee Lakes.

Public water storages in the Basin are at about 21 per cent of capacity, according to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC), which conducted a Basin-wide inventory of public and private storage over the past week.
Acting chief executive, Les Roberts, said figures estimated that, at the end of July, total public active storage held was about 4800 gigalitres (GL).

The total capacity is 22,609GL. Active storage is water which can be released using only gravity. He said water in private storages was also at low levels.

Mr Roberts said most of this water was already marked for critical human needs and a small amount was held as carry over or announced allocations.

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 1400GL or only six per cent of capacity," Mr Roberts said.

"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.

"Estimates from partner governments show that private storages in the north of the Basin are estimated to be holding about 810GL - 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 showing the water needs at the Lower Lakes.

"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," he said.

"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."

Water users and conservationists have been calling for more water be released from the Darling River including Menindee lakes to aid South Australia's lower lakes.

Mr Roberts said management of many issues in the Basin were now heavily reliant on inflows over late winter and spring.

Meanwhile, the Federal Opposition has said the Government's $50 million water buy-back will do nothing to resolve the crisis along the Murray River.

Opposition spokesman for Water Security, John Cobb, said that 40 per cent of water bought under the buy-back came from the Lachlan, Macquarie and Gwydir Valleys.

He said even in a good year not one drop from those valleys will reach the Lower Lakes at the Mouth of the Murray.

"The Government had almost 1000 offers to sell water and pursued about 120 of those for 34 GL," he said.

"The government doesn't have a plan for this buy-back that won't be ready until 2011.

"It means there's no idea about targets in terms of water purchases - this seems ridiculous.

"Without a plan there are no benchmarks, so how do they know they're buying water from the right areas?"

Mr Cobb said it was obvious the government had bought the cheapest water possible and the plan was all about giving the impression the government was doing something to save the Murray Darling Basin.

"Rather than running around spending millions of dollars buying water and destroying communities they should be making sure infrastructure and water monitoring and metering is up to scratch to avoid water losses so we know where the water is and where it's being used. 

"By far the most extraordinary thing is that there is currently no structural adjustment package for rural communities who stand to lose their lifeblood and economic driver, which is water.

"How can Kevin Rudd expect us to believe he'll have a credible Carbon Trading Emissions Scheme up and running by 2010, when the most pressing urgent issue is the lack of water in the Murray Darling Basin and it's going to take until 2011 for a plan to be developed?"

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