Practical Management of
The Darling River:
by Ron Pike
The management of the Darling River and its vast catchment must be vested with ONE authority; not six or seven as is the present case. We can for now call it “The Darling River Authority” (DRA).
- The Darling River and its catchment must be removed from the MDB (Murray-Darling Basin) Plan. There never was any need for water from the Darling to be tagged for use in SA. Management of flows in the lower Murray can come from much larger and more reliable sources.
- The DRA must be legally bound to manage the water in the Darling system on the following basis.
- First priority for available water every year is maintenance of all of river flow in sufficient volume to supply all stock and domestic needs along with all Municipal requirements.In managing the quantum to be held in storage to meet this First Priority, at least two years supply of water must be accounted for in upstream storages, including delivery losses.
- Second priority: Sufficient water for existing permanent plantings; that is high security licenses.
- Third Priority: Only after First and Second priorities have been assured is consideration to be given to what percentages of licenses can be supplied to annual crop irrigators.
- Licenses to irrigate; must be attached to land that can be irrigated and can only be traded within the valley to which they were issued.
- All agreements previously entered into that give other authorities rights to water from Menindee Lakes must be rescinded. The Lakes are there to guarantee water for Broken Hill, Menindee and to ensure sufficient flow for the lower Darling in all years. No water from the Darling should be earmarked for the lower Murray because it is not needed. When there is excess water available from the Lakes it should be used to flush the Great Anna branch on an as possible basis.
- Filling of licensed off-river storages must only be allowed from flows in excess of the above priorities. These privately owned storages have a place in the practical management of water in the system but need to be monitored to ensure water is only diverted after all other priorities have been met and when approved by DRA.
- The pipeline from the Menindee Lakes to Broken Hill needs to be renewed and kept in operational order for all who have relied on it for decades.
Having implemented these practical solutions to overcome the short term problems we should then implement long term plans that will ensure permanent water for the whole region for the foreseeable future by doing the following:
A: Build several weirs along the Darling River creating pools of water around 5 metres deep at the weir and stretching back at least 150 km. These would ensure adequate water for all first priority users as well as recreational facilities and aquatic habitat. Everyone along the river would benefit from always having the water they need and great recreational facilities in a mostly dry environment.
B: Several dam sites have been assessed on tributaries of the Darling which would provide long term additional storage ensuring water in all years. These dams need to be built as soon as possible.
C: Crucial to all of this is implementation of the “The Plan that Works for All” on the Coorong and Lower Lakes. This Plan negates the use of water from the Darling being needed to correct problems in SA.
In summary the present problems are unnecessary and are caused not by under regulation as claimed by the MDBA and Greens but by over regulation flowing from too many entities claiming ownership of water in the Darling system.
This plan could be implemented immediately and at little cost, in stark contrast to the pipeline from Wentworth which will likely become another “White Elephant,” similar to the desalination plants.
The hard part will be getting the politicians to overturn several decades of bad water policy.
The massive Murray-Darling Basin of one million square kilometres, with 77,000 km of river, is home to 2.6 million Australians. It is 14% of Australia’s land mass and produces over 40% of our total agricultural production.
It has for decades produced enough food to feed over 40 million people.
Now because of the MDB Plan and associated State water policy it is dying. If this drought continues, in about 18 months Australia will be importing food and communities across this vast productive area will be depopulating. It may be the biggest mistake ever made by Government in Australia.
Even Henry Lawson back in 1899 in his poem “Song of the Darling River,” recognised what needed to be done on the Darling River:
The skies are brass and the plains are bare,
Death and ruin are everywhere-
And all that is left of the last year’s flood
Is a sickly stream on the grey-black mud.
I have watered the barren land ten leagues wide!
But in vain I have tried, ah! in vain I have tried
To show the sign of the Great All Giver,
The Word to a people: O! lock your river.
Water Conservation and Waste in Australia: