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Living in fairyland

Anyone who blames farmers for an inability to achieve Basin Plan river flows is “living in fairyland”.

It is not farmers or towns or any other feeble excuse that’s the cause. Quite simply, an inability to achieve the plan’s flow targets is a result of the poor modelling on which the Basin Plan was based and the inability of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to understand adaptive management and implementation.

That is the stark reality, according to Upper Goulburn River Catchment Association spokesperson Jan Beer, who has been warning about problems with the Basin Plan’s constraints for more than a decade.

A report released this week highlighted concerns that constraints are impacting the delivery of massive volumes of water to South Australia under the Basin Plan, but the report is bewildering for Mrs Beer and many other landholders.

“I thought it was common knowledge in academic water circles that flow targets could never be met. Is this yet another scientific attempt to conceal this obvious fact and again blame farmers for the plan’s faults?” Mrs Beer asked.

As Basin Plan targets were being developed, and for many years after they were set, landholders along the system advised authorities that flow targets cannot physically be met. Their calls for review continued to fall on deaf ears.

“We warned time and again that achieving the flow targets would result in flooding to towns, public property such as roads and bridges, plus thousands of private properties. We were ignored because it didn’t suit the government’s agenda,” Mrs Beer said.

“We’ve known all along that those trying to deliver such huge volumes to the end of the system were living in fantasy land, and also knew that constraints modelling and the proposed 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’ were all aspirational and designed to fit in with computer models that suggested 80,000 megalitres per day could be delivered to the South Australian border.

“Anyone who thinks these models were legislated for any reason other than sending ridiculous quantities to SA has been taken for a ride. This is all based on flawed science and the myth that the Lower Lakes were historically fresh, which has continually been proven incorrect.

“The constraints strategy in the Basin Plan is another example of flawed modelling prepared on a computer to suit political objectives. Experienced river operators advised the Constraints Panel the 80,000 ML/day could not be achieved without unintended and unwanted consequences.

“Those who had lived on the rivers for generations were ignored and now the city-based bureaucracies are starting to understand that we actually knew what we were talking about,” Mrs Beer said.

She added governments and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority are squarely to blame for the problems being encountered with constraints, as they have developed flow targets with insufficient data available to make safe and accurate predictions.

“A Southern Basin technical advisory committee advising the MDBA was advised in 2016 that three to five years would be needed to collect and collate sufficient data to understand the impact of constraints on flows, however little of this work has been undertaken.

“The Murray Darling Basin Constraints Modelling Report prepared for the Victorian and New South Wales Governments (December 16, 2019) advised, ‘the existing modelling undertaken for the Constraints Measures Program is insufficient to provide relevant and accurate information about the costs and benefits of relaxing the constraints’.

“Yet now, we have a so-called ‘scientific report’ which puts the blame for issues around flows onto farmers. This is irresponsible and misleading to city environmentalists who do not understand the risks – socially and environmentally – of manmade flood events,” Mrs Beer said.

She pointed out that apart from river bank erosion and carp breeding proliferation, widespread inundation spreads weeds and other pests. There are also damaged fences and other infrastructure, massive loss of agricultural production in the peak Spring period, lost crops and stock feed, lost stock … the list goes on.

“Delivering water from man-made dams at the top of the system to the city of Adelaide and the Lower Lakes at the end of the system – all in the name of ‘environmental flows’ – is not as simple as the city-based ideology would have everyone believe.

“My concern is that nothing will change, because the bureaucracy and the scientists lack a ‘lived’ experience of our river systems, but refuse to work with those who live and understand our waterways and have protected them for generations,” Mrs Beer said.

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