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  • Rikki Lambert

Labor sinks dammed Nationals vision for water security


Wyangala Dam spilling in November 2021

Hell's Gate dam is no more, Wyangala Dam's wall won't be raised, and federal Labor is getting the cheque book ready to buy water from Murray-Darling Basin farmers in a repudiation of the National party's signature approach to water security and flood mitigation.


Whilst refusing to announce how much it plans to spend in the current financial year alone, the federal government says it will meet environmental water targets under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through the spurious 'delivering on water commitments' initiative.


Buybacks feared in the Basin will be returning, ominously within the next eight months. The Basin Plan is due for fundamental revision by 2024 and as Flow has warned for some time during the Coalition government's era, buybacks were a very real prospect under Labor. The particular risk emerges in New South Wales where water recovery through efficiency or other projects has been a failure due in part to lack of community support.


As bizarre as it seems to be talking about buying water from farmers whose crops are presently underwater, NSW was in drought 5 years ago and the Basin Plan takes a far longer-term view than present inundation.


It is the same Basin Plan a South Australian Royal Commission condemned for failing to consider the latest climate science and prospect of more droughts - yet the University of Washington has recently opined that climate change inexplicably is 'loading the dice' in favour of wet La Niña cycles for Australia and not the drier El Niño cycles modelling anticipates.


Whilst not in the Basin, the totemic $5.4 billion Hells Gate Dam project in north Queensland has been canned, whilst the raising of the Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan and Abercrombie Rivers has been kicked down the road pending a better 'business case'. The Dam has spilled twice in this calendar year with Lachlan flows flooding downstream communities this October.


The locomotive wheels of policy, budget preparation and bureaucracy might turn too slowly to adjust to recent flooding but adjustments on these spends might well be necessary if the lived experience, let alone the science, indicates a rethink is necessary.


After all, the Basin Authority indicated at Friday's meeting that its storages have never been fuller.


For Labor, though, the political imperative may well be to hell's gate with upset farmers as we buy water during a flood event, Labor voters in cities and beyond farming communities in the Basin will feel good that we're doing something with the fruits of the mythical Canberra money trees.



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