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EHA : Yearkbook 2009
EHA YEARBOOK 2009 To o many Australians still pin their hopes on the mantra “When the rains come again...” – rather than recognising the reality in their rain gauges, dams, rivers and bores, a major new report finds. The National Water Commission has warned that we must go faster and further in changing the way we use and care for our precious water resources. Australian Water Reform 2009 – the Commission’s second major review of the state of Australia’s water management – finds that Australia is failing to meet the challenge of emerging water scarcity. This two-yearly assessment is a regular report on progress under the National Water Initiative – the agreement by Australian governments to make our water use more efficient, secure and sustainable. The report details significant and heartening progress towards water reform in many areas – but concludes that, overall, reform has been to o slow and fragmentary to keep pace with the changing climate scenario. On the positive side, there has been some progress in the past two years, in knowing how much water we have, in understanding how to manage it wisely, and in the emergence of an efficient water market. However, in many places water is still seriously overallocated and overused. As a result, the Australian landscape is not getting its fair share of water, and many of our environmental assets are in a critical state. Water planning Water planning holds the key to Australia’s water future. It involves understanding how much water we have and how it can be best shared between the economy, the community and the environment. Australia’s states and territories have committed to completing 195 water plans. So far, they have only completed 11 2 plans. Only 22 new plans have been introduced in the last two years. This situation is critically inadequate. We need a renewed sense of urgency about rolling out good quality water plans by local authorities. Also many water plans are weak when it comes to the social and environmental uses of water. There is, in particular, a need to ensure enough water is returned to the environment to protect the Australian landscape and its iconic places. The Commission is concerned that many plans fail to properly take account of likely future drying in the climate. There is a lack of openness about telling the community what changes in water availability really mean, especially when it comes to how water plans will deal with trade-offs between competing uses. There is also a failure to engage Indigenous people in water planning. One resource Progress in mapping the links between surface and groundwater and building them into plans has been slow. Although knowledge of Australian groundwater resources is patchy and often poor, there are clear signs in some areas that they are being emptied faster than nature can replenish them. The drying climate will make this worse. In view of this, the Commission says that all groundwater should be regarded as connected to surface water, unless there is good scientific evidence to the contrary. The report also recommends that all bores should be from now on be licensed and metered, with priority for those systems known to be heavily- exploited. Ending over-use Overallocation and overuse continue to bedevil efforts to put water management on a planned and sustainable footing. As a result, native ecosystems are dying, surface and groundwater water quality and supplies are declining and irrigation industries and their communities are struggling, Unfortunately, there remains a fundamental lack of agreement as to what overallocation and overuse mean – and this is sapping confidence in Australia’s ability to manage its water well. The Commission sees as a serious problem the fact that in many places where water is overallocated, the community has not been informed – and needs to be, so they can be returned to sustainable levels. For this reason, the Commission has urged the Council of Australian Governments to speed up its development of guidelines for environmentally sustainable extraction, to bring greater certainty both to irrigators and the Australian landscape. A thirsty landscape Without water even the drought-hardy Australian landscape dies – and many of its iconic places are now at great risk. Widespread and prolonged drought has resulted in critical environmental degradation in the Murray-Darling Basin. While the ideal of giving a share of water to the environment is honoured in most water plans, its practical implementation often lags far behind. Indeed, many plans still lack tools for making good decisions about where, when and how much to water. According to the Commission, all water jurisdictions should state clearly the environmental outcomes they aim to achieve, and how their water use will achieve them. In times of extreme scarcity, any decision to take water away from the environment must be publicly explained and justified. The Commission strongly supports buybacks, large and small, to augment environmental water and is critical of state barriers to water trade that undermine this. It wants environmental water to be registered and reported in a consistent national fashion, and a Troubled Waters: Climate change raises the bar on Australian water reform
Annual Review and Yearbook 2008
EHA Yearbook 2010