Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Long-term research shows ocean acidification ramping up on the Reef

October 29, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, environment | Leave a comment

Scientific women get together in plan for marine protected area for Antarctica Peninsula

October 20, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, women | Leave a comment

Morrison government’s devastating cuts to Environmental research and teaching

‘Devastating’: The Morrison government cuts uni funding for environment courses by almost 30%, The Conversation,    Dianne Gleeson, Professor, Science, University of Canberra, Ian Clark, Associate professor, University of South Australia, Stuart Parsons, Professor, Queensland University of Technology, 14 Oct 20
  1. There has been much attention on how the Morrison government’s university funding reforms will increase the cost of humanities degrees. But another devastating change has passed almost unnoticed: a 29% cut to funding to environmental studies courses. This is one of the largest funding cuts to any university course.

    Universities will receive almost A$10,000 less funding per year for each student undertaking environmental studies. The cut will undoubtedly lead to fewer students and lower-quality learning experiences.

    Environmental studies encompasses the biological and earth sciences, as well as management and planning. Graduates go on to work as government policy officers, and managers in fields including water resources, the environment, urban planning and climate change adaption.

    We are senior members of the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, with more than 80 years of collective experience in various environmental fields. At a time of unprecedented pressures on our environment, expertise in these fields is clearly needed more than ever. ………..Until now, Australia has been a world leader in training the next generation of environmental managers and scientists. Thirty of our universities have recently been rated as producing research in environmental science significantly above world standard. And environmental science at four Australian universities – Australian National University, University of Melbourne, UNSW and University of Sydney – was recently ranked in the top 50 worldwide.

    Without adequate funding, this global standing is threatened.

    The bigger picture

    Fewer and less well-trained environmental studies students will inevitably have a knock-on effect in sectors and industries that need quality graduates with specialist environmental knowledge, such as:

    1. local, state and federal government, to ensure developments are sustainable and broadly benefit communities

  2. agriculture, to address threats as diverse as water quality in the Great Barrier Reef, better retention of nitrogen fertilisers in soils and adaptation to climate change
  3. mining, for advice on site planning and restoration to ensure minimal environmental harm during and after the mine’s operation
  4. water management in rivers and wetlands, to respond to climate change and higher demand from growing populations…….

    We need environmental experts

    Australia’s recent, brutal experience with bushfires and drought shows just how badly we need world-class environmental expertise. As climate change grows ever worse, these experts will be critical in steering us through these challenges.

    What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic – linked to land clearing and more human-wildlife interaction – shows just what can happen under poor environmental management.

    Australia is uniquely vulnerable to climate change, and in 2019, recorded its worst-ever environmental conditions. These university funding cuts affect the people with the answers to our pressing environmental problems – they are a blow to the future of all Australians.


    Read more: A major scorecard gives the health of Australia’s environment less than 1 out of 10   https://theconversation.com/devastating-the-morrison-government-cuts-uni-funding-for-environment-courses-by-almost-30-147852

October 15, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Australia a leader in the worst sense – biodiversity loss and risk of ecosystem collapse

Fifth of countries at risk of ecosystem collapse, analysis finds  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/12/fifth-of-nations-at-risk-of-ecosystem-collapse-analysis-finds
Trillions of dollars of GDP depend on biodiversity, according to Swiss Re report, 
 Damian Carrington Environment editor @dpcarrington, Mon 12 Oct 2020 .One-fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing because of the destruction of wildlife and their habitats, according to an analysis by the insurance firm Swiss Re.

Natural “services” such as food, clean water and air, and flood protection have already been damaged by human activity.

More than half of global GDP – $42tn (£32tn) – depends on high-functioning biodiversity, according to the report, but the risk of tipping points is growing.

Countries including Australia, Israel and South Africa rank near the top of Swiss Re’s index of risk to biodiversity and ecosystem services, with India, Spain and Belgium also highlighted. Countries with fragile ecosystems and large farming sectors, such as Pakistan and Nigeria, are also flagged up.

Countries including Brazil and Indonesia had large areas of intact ecosystems but had a strong economic dependence on natural resources, which showed the importance of protecting their wild places, Swiss Re said.

“A staggering fifth of countries globally are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing due to a decline in biodiversity and related beneficial services,” said Swiss Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurers and a linchpin of the global insurance industry.

“If the ecosystem service decline goes on [in countries at risk], you would see then scarcities unfolding even more strongly, up to tipping points,” said Oliver Schelske, lead author of the research.

Jeffrey Bohn, Swiss Re’s chief research officer, said: “This is the first index to our knowledge that pulls together indicators of biodiversity and ecosystems to cross-compare around the world, and then specifically link back to the economies of those locations.”

The index was designed to help insurers assess ecosystem risks when setting premiums for businesses but Bohn said it could have a wider use as it “allows businesses and governments to factor biodiversity and ecosystems into their economic decision-making”.

The UN revealed in September that the world’s governments failed to meet a single target to stem biodiversity losses in the last decade, while leading scientists warned in 2019 that humans were in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. More than 60 national leaders recently pledged to end the destruction.

The Swiss Re index is built on 10 key ecosystem services identified by the world’s scientists and uses scientific data to map the state of these services at a resolution of one square kilometre across the world’s land. The services include provision of clean water and air, food, timber, pollination, fertile soil, erosion control, and coastal protection, as well as a measure of habitat intactness.

Those countries with more than 30% of their area found to have fragile ecosystems were deemed to be at risk of those ecosystems collapsing. Just one in seven countries had intact ecosystems covering more than 30% of their country area.

Among the G20 leading economies, South Africa and Australia were seen as being most at risk, with China 7th, the US 9th and the UK 16th.

Alexander Pfaff, a professor of public policy, economics and environment at Duke University in the US, said: “Societies, from local to global, can do much better when we not only acknowledge the importance of contributions from nature – as this index is doing – but also take that into account in our actions, private and public.”

Pfaff said it was important to note that the economic impacts of the degradation of nature began well before ecosystem collapse, adding: “Naming a problem may well be half the solution, [but] the other half is taking action.”

Swiss Re said developing and developed countries were at risk from biodiversity loss. Water scarcity, for example, could damage manufacturing sectors, properties and supply chains.

Bohn said about 75% of global assets were not insured, partly because of insufficient data. He said the index could help quantify risks such as crops losses and flooding.

October 13, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Australian State laws have weak environmental standards

Major gaps’: no state meets national environment standards, The Age, Mike Foley, October 4, 2020 —  State and territory governments should make major reforms to their environmental laws and increase compliance regimes to meet the national standards, new research has found.

The findings are revealed in a report from the “Places You Love” alliance of conservation groups, released on Monday, which found “not only does no state or territory law meet national standards, but in some jurisdictions, the environmental protections in state and territory laws have actually been weakened”.

This week the Senate is set to debate the federal government’s bill to hand approval powers for major projects to state governments, in a bid to remove bureaucratic duplication and speed-up project development to boost the economy.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley has pledged that any changes to The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will not reduce current level of environmental regulation…….

Ms Ley has been criticised by environment groups for rushing her bill through Parliament. It passed the lower house in August and could be enacted as soon as next week – ahead of a major review of the laws by former competition watchdog boss Professor Graeme Samuel, which is due by the end of October.

Professor Samuel said Australia’s “current environmental trajectory is unsustainable”. National laws were “not fit to address current or future environmental challenges”, he said, while for industry they are “ineffective and inefficient”…….

The EPBC Act was enacted in 1999 and created a list of “matters of national environmental significance”, including World Heritage areas, internationally listed wetlands and threatened species. While state laws do include some protections for these matters, federal government has wielded the most powerful protections for the past two decades.

The report found no state or territory legislation met the necessary suite of “national environmental standards required to protect matters of national environmental significance”.

Protection of threatened species habitat from development is one of the most significant functions of the EPBC Act. States run their own offset policies, which can allow developers who destroy protected habitat to mitigate the damage by protecting or restoring habitat somewhere else. State offset standards frequently do not meet national standards…….. https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/major-gaps-no-state-meets-national-environment-standards-20201002-p561iz.html

October 5, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Morrison government refuses to sign leaders’ pledge on biodiversity

September 29, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Australians recorded frog calls on their smartphones after the bushfires – and the results are remarkable 

Australians recorded frog calls on their smartphones after the bushfires – and the results are remarkable 

Jodi Rowley, Australian Museum and Will Cornwell, 

Frogs are one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth. At least four of Australia’s 240 known frog species are extinct and 36 are nationally threatened. After last summer’s bushfires, we needed rapid information to determine which frogs required our help.

September 28, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Australian government never intended to follow the advice of the review on environmental law

September 17, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Australia’s environmental law: the danger in moving powers to the States

‘We are relying on a pinky promise’: The problem with the Government moving its environmental powers to states, ABC , By national science, technology and environment reporter Michael Slezak,   13 Sept, 20

As the NSW Government descends into chaos over koala protections, the Federal Government is in a scramble trying to hand over its environmental powers to the states.

Just over a month ago — perhaps an eternity in the political news cycle — Environment Minister Sussan Ley welcomed a landmark review into our national environment laws by reaching across the aisle…….

After years of partisanship on what to do with the laws, Professor Graeme Samuel’s recommendations laid out a middle path. It delivered the deregulation sought by the Morrison Government, while protecting the environment with fundamental safeguards.

With that middle path laid out, Labor also came to the table, dropping their long-held opposition to deregulation.

Fast-forward just five weeks and the Government introduced amendments which, to a large degree, rehashed Abbott-era deregulation amendments, without yet introducing the fundamental protections recommended by Professor Samuel.

And partisanship is back at full throttle.

The Government rushed the amendment through the upper house, quashing debate. The crossbench and Labor called foul, and now conservationists have written to the United Nations calling for it to “express alarm” about the changes. And now the crossbenchers in the Senate appear set to block the bill.

How did we get here and where is all this going? And what could all this mean for the environment?

An old policy by a new name

For years, the Coalition has had one overriding reform planned for Australia’s environmental laws: devolving federal assessment and approval powers to the states.

When a proposed project — think a mine, farm or building — has the potential to damage matters of national environmental significance, it requires environmental approval from both state and federal governments.

Under Abbott, the devolution of federal approval powers to states was called a “one stop shop”. It’s been relabelled “single touch approval” under Morrison but it’s the same thing.

Graeme Samuel’s review recommended that devolution of powers to states proceed with some key safeguards to ensure the environment is protected.

Samuel called for an “independent cop on the beat” — a regulator that would function at arm’s length from the minister. That was immediately rejected.

But crucially, Samuel said the deregulation must be built on what he called “national standards” that would ensure state processes protected the environment. He described these as the “foundation for effective regulation”.

Minister Ley immediately accepted that recommendation.

But last week she introduced a bill to Parliament that devolved approval powers to states, without any reference to national standards.

Rather than allow a parliamentary debate of the matter, the Government rushed it through the House of Representatives, blocking debate, stopping crossbenchers from moving amendments to the bill and sent it straight to the Senate — although too late for it to be considered there this month.

Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers were furious, claiming that democracy was under threat. That anger seemed to jump to the Senate, with crossbenchers now looking to vote the bill down.

The missing national standards

The Minister still insists there will be national standards; that they will be legally enforceable; and they will be “Commonwealth led”. So why weren’t they in that bill?

In an interview with the ABC last week, Minister Ley said the Government already had a bill “ready” that would set up the framework for national standards and would introduce it soon………….

Does it matter?

Dr Megan Evans, an environmental policy expert from UNSW, says the law passed by the lower house gives the minister too much latitude to set the standards.

“It provides the Commonwealth with total discretion over the terms if entering into a bilateral agreement,” Dr Evans said. “This means we are relying on a pinky promise from the Government.”

Dr Peter Burnett from the ANU College of Law said “the mode of setting the Standards does make a difference”. According to him, it’s a matter of who will be able to enforce those standards.

“If they form part of a bilateral agreement between two governments, then it is likely that only the Commonwealth could take action against a state that did not comply with the standards, as only the parties to an agreement can enforce it,” Dr Burnett said.

If the standards were in federal legislation, then it is likely that third parties — like environmental groups — could challenge non-compliance by states in court.

And who’s enforcing the laws could make all the difference.

Of all the threatened species habitat cleared since the laws were first put in place, only seven per cent of it was even assessed under the act.

And according to the Auditor General, among projects that were assessed and approved by the Federal Government, 80 per cent were non-compliant or contained errors.

But how the Government will get these standards agreed to by states — without money on the table to help apply them — is still up in the air.

And this week in NSW, we saw just how fraught state environmental laws can be.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-13/environmenal-law-deregulation-states/12656318

September 14, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Australia’s environmental scientists are being gagged

September 10, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, secrets and lies | Leave a comment

Morrison government rushing to make Austraia’s environment laws even weaker: a recipe for extinctions

‘Recipe for extinction’: why Australia’s rush to change environment laws is sparking widespread concern

Critics argue shifting approval powers to the states without an independent regulator will fail to protect the environment,   Guardian,  Lisa Cox– 6 Sept 20

Anger over proposed changes to national environmental laws is escalating, with legal, health and conservation groups urging that they not pass the Senate, with some warning it would increase the extinction rate.

The government rammed its legislation to change Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act through the lower house on Thursday night, prompting outrage from Labor, the Greens and crossbench.

WWF-Australia says the bill in its current reform is a “recipe for extinction” and lacks standards that would ensure strong protections for nature, as well as a commitment to an independent regulator to enforce the law.

“There is more than just wildlife at stake here,” Rachel Lowry, WWF-Australia’s chief conservation officer, says. “If approved, this bill will fail Australians at this critical moment in time because it fails to incentivise win-win solutions that stimulate our economy and protect the places and animals we love.

“Shifting approval powers to the states without an independent regulator to ensure enforcement would be the most damaging environmental decision to occur within Australia in recent decades.”

The government’s bill would amend Australia’s environmental laws, clearing the way for the transfer of development approval powers to state and territory governments.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the environment minister, Sussan Ley, have argued the changes are necessary to aid Australia’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proposed changes passed the lower house on Thursday night after the government used its numbers to gag debate on the bill and amendments proposed by Labor and the crossbench.

No member of the government spoke on the bill, which still has to pass the Senate and will likely be debated during the October budget sittings.

Rachel Walmsley, the policy and law reform director at the Environmental Defenders Office, says the government is trying to avoid scrutiny.

She warns the bill has the potential to undermine the statutory review of the EPBC Act, chaired by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, which is not due to table its final report until the end of October.

The key finding of Samuel’s interim report was that Australia’s system of environmental protections had failed and the decline of wildlife and habitat was unsustainable.

“It was a fairly atrocious process that, moments before adjournment, they rammed it through,” Walmsley says.

“The gagging of the debate, the fact they prevented voting on amendments and the fact no government MP stood up to justify the policy – it prevented proper parliamentary scrutiny.”

The Climate and Health Alliance, which is a coalition of Australian health organisations, has called on the Senate to block the amendments.

“Australia’s natural environment is declining on every possible measure. We lead the world in animal extinctions,” says the alliance’s executive director, Fiona Armstrong. “There is no economy without a healthy environment.

“The government is trying to rush through amendments to our environmental protection laws that would weaken them in favour of expanding gas and fossil fuel projects that harm the environment and threaten human health.”

The Law Council of Australia has called for the bill to be put before a parliamentary committee for inquiry and not rushed through the Senate.

The government and One Nation have blocked several attempts by the Greens to have a parliamentary committee examine the bill.

International obligations

The Law Council says the government needs to make sure it retains oversight of matters of national environmental significance if it enters into bilateral approval agreements with state and territory governments.

The council says this is particularly important for ensuring Australia still meets its obligations under some 33 international treaties and protocols to which it is signatory, including for world heritage sites…….. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/06/recipe-for-extinction-why-australias-rush-to-change-environment-laws-is-sparking-widespread-concern

September 7, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Environment Law: Scott Morrison’s government shows its disdain for ZaliSteggall and the cross-benchers

Independent MPs furious as government rams environmental law changes through lower house, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/independent-mps-furious-as-government-rams-environmental-law-changes-through-lower-house  4 Sept 20 The Morrison government has been branded a “bully in action” for pushing its environment law changes through the lower house without following usual process.

Independent MPs are furious with the Morrison government for throwing due process out the window and ramming controversial environmental laws through the lower house.

Crossbench MP Zali Steggall flagged amendments to the bill but the government refused to allow them to be voted on.

Instead, the coalition used its numbers to shove the bill through the lower house on Thursday night.

Ms Steggall described the government as a “bully in action”.

“The PM and every coalition MP made a mockery of due process for legislation and bulldozed environmental and water protection,” she said.

“And they were laughing while doing it. This is how they represent you. If you care, contact your MP.”

The changes to the national environment protection laws pave the way for states to take over approvals.

The states would have to abide by a set of national environment standards, which have not been developed.

The changes are in response to an interim review conducted by former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel.

Professor Samuel also recommended installing an independent environmental umpire, but the government has rejected that.

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie says the changes will water down environment protection.

“(The bill) hands decision-making to state and territory governments who have shown time and time again to be conflicted and incapable of protecting the environment,” he said.

“The passage of the amendment through the House of Representatives was also a chilling demonstration of the government’s complete contempt for democracy.

“Most members of the house were prevented from speaking, and foreshadowed amendments were blocked without debate. The government acted again like an elected dictatorship.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley was quick to defend the changes after outrage over the process.

“There will be more reforms to follow,” she said.

“We will develop strong Commonwealth-led national environmental standards which will underpin new bilateral agreements with state governments.”

The bill is likely to be referred to a Senate committee for scrutiny, pumping the brakes on its progress.

Labor and the Greens oppose the legislation.

September 5, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Australian government, masks its anti-environment action under the cover of Covid-19

September 5, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Aussies call for tougher environment laws

Aussies call for tougher environment laws, Deniliquin Pastoral Times by AAP NEWSWIRE  4 Sep 20, The equivalent of the national capital’s population has supported a petition calling for stronger environmental protection laws.The petition is the most supported in the Australian Conservation Foundation’s history, with close to 410,000 people signing it.

ACF’s chief Kelly O’Shanassy has sent it to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who are in the midst of tweaking the national protection laws.

The changes are in response to an interim review of the laws, but rather than strengthening environmental standards the first move is to cut red tape.

ACF’s petition calls on the government to create a “new generation of national laws to protect nature and funding to restore ecosystems to bring our wildlife back from the brink”.

In his interim review, former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel found the current laws were ineffective and Australia’s environmental trajectory is unsustainable.

He recommended an independent environmental watchdog, which has been rejected by the government.

Instead the first changes set the stage for states to take over environmental approvals.

They will have to abide by a set of national environmental standards, which have not yet been developed…….

Labor and the Greens oppose the government’s changes, and want Ms Ley to wait until Professor Samuel’s final report is handed down next month before changing the laws. https://www.denipt.com.au/national/2020/09/03/1566977/aussies-call-for-tougher-environment-laws

September 5, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Murray-Darling River system; mysterious loss of more than 2 trillion litres of water

The mystery of the Murray-Darling’s vanishing flows, ABC By national science, technology and environment reporter Michael SlezakMark DomanKatia Shatoba, Penny Timms and Alex Palmer 3 Sep 2020

It might be the biggest whodunnit — or what-dunnit — in Australia.

More than 2 trillion litres of water — enough to fill Sydney Harbour four and a half times — has gone missing from our largest and most precious river system — the Murray-Darling Basin.

And it’s happened in what was already one of the driest periods the basin has seen.

According to an investigation by some of Australia’s top water scientists, shared exclusively with the ABC, 20 per cent of the water expected to flow down the rivers from 2012-2019 was simply not there. That’s despite almost $7 billion being spent to protect the health of the system’s rivers and ecosystems that rely on them.

Was it stolen? Was it lost? Has climate change made it go up in steam? Or was it simply never there in the first place?

There are clues scattered up and down the rivers but one simple message is clear in the scientists’ findings. For the first time, they provide evidence that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — the most expensive environmental program in Australia’s history — is delivering much less water than was expected.

And the implications could be huge……. EXCELLENT INTERACTIVE GRAPHICS HERE

…..“It’s a huge discrepancy to be missing a fifth of the water that’s meant to be in the rivers,” said Jamie Pittock from the ANU. He’s an expert in water management and a co-author of the Wentworth Group’s report.

“It means that there are all sorts of things that Australians value that won’t be sustained … like more water for towns … the floodplains, growing grass for sheep and cattle, in terms of biodiversity being conserved, waterbirds, red gum forests and conserving our fish.”…………

there are clues. Lots of them. We’ve seen water go missing up and down the river with clear explanations before. And looking closely at the new report, many of those explanations are consistent with the new data.

Clue one: tampered meters and criminal prosecutions

One possible explanation for the shortfall is that some of the missing water has been stolen.

An investigation by Four Corners in 2017 put water theft in the spotlight — much of it around the Barwon-Darling catchment in the Northern Basin.

Irrigators there, according to official figures, use 3 per cent of all the water taken from the entire Murray-Darling Basin.

But on top of those official figures, there has been significantly more water taken in that area. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority itself estimated that in the Northern Basin, as little as 25 per cent of surface water take has been metered.

Some of the water that went unmetered was stolen.

Peter Harris, who was named in the 2017 Four Corners, was this year found guilty of water theft just upstream from those gauges at Brewarrina.

Anthony Barlow, another person named in the program, was found guilty and fined $190,000, for water theft just upstream again.

Since the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) was formed in NSW in 2018, 15 additional charges have been laid in these locations across the state for water theft and related actions, according to an NRAR spokeswoman.

Emma Carmody, a lawyer at the Environmental Defenders’ Office, said the criminal prosecutions do not represent how widespread water theft has been.

“I’d actually go so far as to say that this situation pre-2018 was catastrophically bad in those northern catchments in relation to compliance and enforcement,” Dr Carmody said………..

Clue two: shadow take

Travel further upstream along the Macquarie River towards Dubbo, and you land in the internationally protected wetlands of the Macquarie Marshes………

In a landscape so flat, structures like roads, engineered channels and small levee banks can divert staggering volumes of floodwater — potentially shepherding it across a farmer’s fields where it is left to soak into the ground, or even pumped into dams.

This water taken by irrigators and graziers from the floodplains — rather than from the rivers — has hardly ever been measured.

Using satellite imagery, flood paths appear guided by seemingly innocuous structures, or completely cut off by others.

Richard Kingsford is a river ecologist at the University of New South Wales who has studied the Macquarie Marshes and the impacts of floodplain harvesting.

He says water that spills over floodplains often drains back into rivers, and interrupting its flow can have big impacts, including contributing to the missing flows.

“There are very few places where we have an accurate estimate of how much water is being taken from the floodplain. And to me, this has been a yawning gap in the policy,” he said…………

Clue Three: The cash splash

If we head all the way to southern NSW, we see a completely different clue.

Billions have been spent subsidising “efficiency measures” to help farmers save water there.

That can be done by upgrading old irrigation systems to deliver water directly to roots, or lining water channels, for example. Then about half of the water saved by the farmers gets handed to the government for the environment.

But according to some experts, the “inefficiencies” prior to the upgrades just meant some of the water used by irrigators flowed back into the rivers. The upgrades mean that “return flow” stops happening………..

In a report published in 2019, Professor Williams estimated that at least 280 billion litres of water per year might have been lost from the rivers — and are unaccounted for — due to this problem.

“That must be a major reason that we’re not getting the flow regimes that we need,” Professor Williams said.

The MDBA commissioned its own analysis of the issue and concluded the loss of return flows was reducing water in the rivers by 121 billion litres a year.……..

Clue Four: Climate change

There is one issue, however, that most experts do agree is a major reason for the missing water in the basin.

“The MDBA considers a changing climate to be the primary contributory factor,” said the MDBA’s Vicki Woodburn.

Since the basin plan was introduced, heat records across the area have been broken in four of the eight years. The last three years have been the hottest ever recorded in the basin.

According to the South Australian royal commission into the Murray-Darling basin plan, the MDBA “completely ignored climate change” when determining how much water needed to be saved.

If true, that means the overall target may have been set too low — that more water needs to be recovered from irrigation to save the river system.

But the same models used to set those targets have also been used to manage the rivers, and now to calculate how much water should be in the rivers. And by inadequately accounting for climate change, those models are likely over-predicting how much water is being recovered.

Climate change means more water is likely being lost between gauges, as it flows along — lost into the dry river beds and the hot air…………..

Clue five: The water was never there

In a twist worthy of any whodunnit, could it be that some of the missing water was simply never there in the first place?

According to the Wentworth Group, the government modelling used to predict how much water we should see in the river has some fundamental flaws which likely exaggerate the volumes.

For example, in 2018, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority found its modelling “has trouble predicting low flows”.

That meant that when water stopped flowing in the river, the model would still show water flowing — something that could have been particularly problematic over the past seven years when low flows were very common………….

What it all means

If there’s less water in the rivers than we ever planned for, what’s to be done about it?……………..

Professor Vertessy, who advises the MDBA, thinks this sort of shortfall could contribute to a rethink of the long-term water recovery targets.    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-03/the-mystery-of-the-murray-darlings-vanishing-flows/12612166?nw=0

“We may have to — I think everyone would accept that these sustainable diversion limits aren’t quantities which you ossify for posterity,” he says.

“They’ve got to be adjusted to fit in with the new climate realities and the social preferences of the day.”

And the scientists say whatever the response to the findings, something has to give.

“The current basin plan tries to pretend that we can do everything with a smaller and smaller cake,” says Professor Pittock.

“What this really means is that society is going to have to make some hard choices. How much irrigated agriculture do we want as a society versus how much do we want to retain by way of wetlands and ecosystems [or] of sites of cultural value to Indigenous people?”   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-03/the-mystery-of-the-murray-darlings-vanishing-flows/12612166?nw=0

September 3, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment