Academics issue a warning about Australia’s largest water body, the Murray Darling Basin, as its ecosystem is under significant stress due to adverse management and extreme weather conditions.
With record breaking temperatures registered in many parts of Australia in the last few months alone there is a growing sense the upcoming federal election could be a referendum about climate change and the Murray darling Basin (MDB) in particular.
University of South Australia’s Professor Lin Crase says the shortcomings of the current MDB management could turn catastrophic if, as widely predicted, hotter, drier weather patterns escalate over coming years.
There is hope in the upcoming federal elections campaign water management will be highly debated and solutions will be proposed.
“The system is already vulnerable in numerous places and will be sorely tested with climate change,” Prof Crase says.
“A 10 per cent reduction in rain equates to a 30 percent reduction in stream flow, so if the system is already weakened by poor water management, it is unlikely to do well in the future.”
The academic highlights that the Current MDB policy is built around spending public money to buy more efficient irrigation equipment for MDB farmers in the belief that if less water is ‘wasted’ in maintaining crops, more water will be left in the river system.
Professor Crase says, research strongly suggests this policy is built on a false premise. Studies conducted around the planet demonstrate that, somewhat counter-intuitively, improving irrigation efficiency actually reduces water flow in a river system.
The alternative is to stop investing public money in irrigation infrastructure, and instead, use those funds to essentially pay farmers not to irrigate, leaving the water in the river system, known as water buyback.