Water wars

It is said that in the 21st Century wars will be fought over water.
That prediction is yet to be tested fully but if Australia’s internal squabble over the Murray Darling Basin is anything to go by then it’s almost certainly correct.
Water, as we all know, is a vital commodity.
In Australia this is exacerbated by its sometimes erratic availability.
In a drought ravaged continent such as ours it is little wonder that water causes arguments which are difficult to solve.
We all thought we’d done that in 2012 when, after more than a century of arguing among the competing States, the Murray-Darling Basin plan was finalised.
This historic proposal was designed to give enough water for the Murray-Darling ecosystem to maintain a healthy base while, at the same time, allowing people living along its length to maintain their irrigation enterprises.
All the States agreed to allow the system 3200 billion litres a year – the minimum required to maintain its health. Of that amount, 2570 billion was guaranteed with the remaining 450 billion to be released if doing so was not going to have a significant impact on river communities.
And therein lies the problem.
Just what is significant and who decides when that point has been reached?
Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says it has been reached and the water won’t be forthcoming.
SA Senator Nick Xenophon says the environment needs that extra flow and the amount can come, not from buy backs – which removes water from upstream irrigators and deprives them of income – but from on-farm efficiencies.
SA irrigators along the Murray lead the nation in the wise use of water.
They’ve had to be miserly.
Being a small State at the end of the river, most irrigation water has already been removed upstream by farmers growing vast water-hungry crops such as rice and cotton leaving those at the bottom end to do more with less.
Those same lessons have not been learned by all irrigators upstream and until that occurs, it is not unreasonable to expect the promised flows to be maintained.