Another irrigation season is over and The Boss took me for a slow walk along the river the other day to see how it was faring.
The April rains took some of the pressure off, he says, compared to the last few years where the high summer flows (up to 85 billion litres a month) between January and May had done a lot of damage to the river.
This year, Victoria’s Water Minister, Lisa Neville, put a limit of 50 gigalitres a month on these flows – although the Murray Darling mob ignored her, The Boss reckons, and took 61 GL in January. Here’s the latest chart:
Overall, though, the summer inter-valley transfers for the Murray River were half what they were last year and the nut growing mob down around Sunraysia are grizzling about it.
Back in early May, the boss of Select Harvests, Paul Thompson, was quoted in The Weekly Times warning Ms Neville about possible legal action if she doesn’t take the brakes off: she needs to show “flexibility” about the inter-valley transfers, he said.
The Boss says Mr Thompson’s idea of “flexibility” is clearly more than 50 GL a month – which is too much anyway. The Catchment Management Authority strongly argues the safe maximum flow in summer for the river is around 30 GL a month. So Mr Thompson obviously doesn’t give a brass razoo about the damage these sustained high flows are causing to the banks and bed of the river.
But legally he might have a point: The Boss says the state department has allowed all of these extraction licences to be issued to the nut people over the years without giving much thought to how to get the water to them. They can’t run more water down the Murray because of the Barmah Choke, which only leaves the Goulburn and Campaspe.
The Boss thinks all the nut growers should have their own water storages – big dams they can fill during winter and spring when the river is naturally high. But of course, they don’t want to pay for that – they’d rather sue the government or mess up our river instead.
The bank I’m perched in the photo shows you part of the damage. There used to be a bench along here at summer level, where I could walk and The Boss could sit and fish. It’s completely gone.
This is what Dr Geoff Vietz from Streamology has been saying after his monitoring of flows along the river over the past few years: instead of the natural up-and-down flows that let the banks dry out, the constant high summer flows soften even the hardest parts of the clay banks and erode these low benches away completely, creating “walling” of the banks.
And where is all that sediment going? A lot of it ends up on the bottom, making the river more shallow – which in turn speeds up the flow. Not to mention what it does to the fish habitat.
The Boss doesn’t like it, says its irreversible and has to stop. I’m with him. Woof!