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Don’t waste the Murray River

Remember the lesson of the great Newfoundland cod fisheries. Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous gives a description of fish so plentiful that the waters seethed with them. In 1977 Canada tried to stop the reduction of the cod stocks by declaring 320 kilometers off Newfoundland off limits to foreign factory ships. The local industry flourished, bringing prosperity to Newfoundland. In the 1980s marine biologists warned that the future was threatened by the heavy fishing and recommended an annual target of 125,000 tonnes of cod. But the community outcry about the economic and social damage made the government set the target at 235,000 tonnes. Stocks fell below a sustainable level and in June 1992 one of the richest natural resources was closed down. 30,000 jobs were lost and Newfoundland fell into rapid economic decline.

Millions of people depend on Murray River health

The lesson for the health of the Murray River is clear. (See Peter Goodwin’s letter in the AGE, October 2010)
Millions of us depend upon this river. We cannot repeat the mistake of Newfoundland when scientists warn us of consequences of letting it die.

We are doing some silly things.

Is water wasted that is not directly used now by the people? Is it wasted if it keeps the river alive for our future use, if it floods the plains where the red gums grow, or keeps alive the swamps, which the migrating birds, and other wildlife depend upon? This is a question, which must be answered by us all now, for the sake of the future.

Four States of Australia squabble over what water there is – Queensland, where much of the water originates, New South Wales and Victoria which have the problem of whether to keep the trees of the flood plains alive, and South Australia, where the river used to flow into the sea, and is now struggling to keep the lakes and estuary alive, as well as the capital of Adelaide.

Water waste by irrigators and country towns is now greatly reduced by more enlightened practices, but some areas are more progressive than others. It is still not worked out which crops are best suited to different areas, especially with water-hungry cotton and rice. Other crops such as dried fruit would prosper more if they could compete with Middle Eastern imports, which have low labor costs but a high real cost in freight, which adds to carbon emissions and fuel loss.

There are some crops necessary for feeding our population, which it would be wiser to grow to some extent at least, in our fertile Murray River Basin, than rely entirely on imports. Water is a scarce commodity the most of the world, and we use the water overseas for our imported food too.

Private ownership of water is disastrous for this country

A great waste of the Murray River is the private ownership of water. This means that government must pay private interests for water to use in the public interest. Originally far-seeing legislators in Victoria decreed that all water belonged to the state, which gave irrigators and others the rights to use it. Unfortunately this right has become a right to own it. Not only irrigators but financial interests have now got a source of income that costs the Murray River and the State dearly. A title system for the use of water similar to land ownership would be disastrous for this dry country.

Farmers and States trading rights to use water on an annual basis is one thing. To have titles to private ownership of water is reckless.

Water ownership would inevitably accumulate into the hands of a few. There would be no legal way to prevent foreign ownership. Greedy people have their eyes on water ownership globally, as with growing population pressures it becomes the most valuable commodity on earth. The pressure on governments from these private interests may be great, and must be resisted.

Governments selling our life-blood away are treasonous

There is such a thing as treason, and selling away our life-blood is one of them. Although distribution can be allowed through private companies, and private interests assist in infrastructure, the living water itself must remain inalienably in public ownership, and subject to public control. Free trade agreements must never have a legal chance to include water.

North South Pipeline is a really stupid waste

The stupidest waste of the Murray River is the North-South Pipeline of Victoria, built by the Victorian government to keep the Melbourne electorates happy, takes water down south for Melbourne, which otherwise would flow down the Goulburn River to the Murray River and associated irrigators.

Australian Aboriginals did it much better than we do

The aboriginal inhabitants for 40,000 years lived sustainably on the banks of the river, and harvested its wildlife without extinction, keeping their population within the bounds of existing technology, droughts and floods.

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Livestock and their irrigated crops are the largest squanders of water. According to ABS, in 2005-06, the agricultural commodities that used the most water in the MDB were dairy farming. In 2005-06, the dairy industry accounted for 39% of the total irrigated area of pasture in the MDB.

The rice and cotton crops may be big users, but not as extensive as the dairy industry. Much of the products are exported.

The dairy and livestock industries are vastly inefficient, consuming precious water, damaging the environment, and causing immense pain, suffering and death to countless innocent cows and dairy "by-products" - nearly one million bobby calves slaughtered each year!

Settlers here imported their diets and livestock to emulate their their fore-bearers, and we are still on the same unsustainable track today. It has been said that changing diets is harder than changing religions. Our insistence on flavors, traditions, habits all goes beyond logic!