Scientist slams ‘risky’ groundwater plan

Scientist slams ‘risky’ groundwater plan


One of Australia’s leading groundwater expert has strongly criticised the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying it points to a risky over-allocation of precious underground water.

Speaking at a conference on groundwater in Sydney, Professor Craig Simmons said the federal Labor-led government had done a “major u-turn” from the draft guide it released in 2010.

“The guide proposed a reduction of 160 gigalitres (GL) of water from groundwater.

“We have now seen a proposal to increase that from current groundwater extraction in the basin, which is around 1740GL of water, to up to 4340GL a year,” the Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training in South Australia said.

He backed the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which released a report last week condemning the draft plan released by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MBDA), saying it had raised real issues about trust and transparency.

“There really is no analysis of potential risks and impacts of sustainability of the groundwater resource,” Professor Simmons said.

“It really does beg the question about our confidence in the project and its ability to deliver ultimately what it needs to, and that is a healthy, working river system.”

The Wentworth Group scientists, including Professor Tim Flannery, Ronnie Harding, Hugh Possingham and Bruce Thom, said the plan did not identify the volume of water needed for a healthy working river system.

They also said there was no information on how effective MDBA plan would be in coping with long dry periods.

Professor Simmons said groundwater was being treated as a free resource that could be tapped at will.

In reality, the groundwater in the Murray-Darling basin could be upwards of hundreds of thousands of years old, and its usage often exceeded the rate of recharge, he said.

“It will become more important in the future as surface supplies become ever more stressed due to competing pressures of evaporation, a drying climate, population growth the increasing demands of industry and agriculture.”

Professor Robert Glennon, from the University of Arizona, warned Australians were in the grip of a “hydro-illogical cycle”, with national concerns about water management fading as rainfall improved.

“We humans, whether we’re US citizens or Australian citizens, have an infinite capacity to deny reality,” Professor Glennon told the conference.

He said the biggest question confronting Australians was whether the country was going to backtrack on water reforms simply because the country was no longer in the midst of a drought.