Ground water and surface water in the Murray Darling Basin need to be managed as a single resource for us to go forward in solving the current water crisis in the Basin according to one of Australia’s leading water scientists.
“I think people have been having fantasies about ground water and during a drought think they can put down bores and everything will be all right,” said Prof Peter Cullen, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.
“Ground water and surface water are largely connected and if you are just taking ground water, with a lag time of perhaps 20 years, you are going to dry up the streams. We are starting to see that already where excessive ground water extraction is leading to a reduction in stream flow in the Murrumbidgee.”
Prof Cullen said that a single register that integrated ground water and surface water entitlements as announced by Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull was absolutely critical if we were to go forward.
Prof Cullen is also recommending that around $200million be committed to a MDB groundwater assessment program to identify sustainable yields of groundwater systems.
Prof Cullen, a commissioner with the National Water Commission, has welcomed the Prime Minister’s Water Reform Plan though admitted he was somewhat intimidated by the magnitude of job to get it right.
“Since Federation we have been fighting about how we use the Murray,” said Prof Cullen. “Just because the Federal Government is taking it over doesn’t mean the fights are going to get any less. There are a whole lot of interest groups all very keen to protect their interests. Yet we have to try and protect the health of the river and we have got to do all of this in a time of what looks like declining rainfall.
“How quickly we can adjust to that and try and get some return to sustainable levels of extraction, the better the chance we’ll have of the Lower Murray looking anything like what it used to. The system is highly stressed and we need to learn to manage it with less water in it.”
Prof Cullen said he was hoping we can make a difference.
“We’ve got Government’s attention, we’ve got political support, we’ve got money….but whether we are smart enough to make a system that works is the challenge ahead of us….and we don’t have a lot of time,” he said.
“Rainfall is declining, and we’ve had a drought on top of a climate shift.”
Prof Cullen will provide the closing address at the 5th Australian Streamside Management Conference, hosted by Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society, in Albury, May 19 to 25. Full details on the conference are at http://www.csu.edu/research/ilws/news/conference.html
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