Government places water restrictions on Lower Darling customers

The severe drought conditions across NSW has resulted in government requesting WaterNSW to implement restrictions on water accounts for Lower Darling customers.

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A Temporary Water Restriction Order restricts the use of any available water to critical human needs and permanent plantings, plus the use of high-security water from Copi Hollow.

There is a severe water shortage in the Lower Darling and WaterNSW has implemented a number of contingency measures, including minimising releases, pumping water to the most efficient storage locations, isolating Copi Hollow from Lake Pamamaroo and pumping it to maximum capacity (about 12 GL), and constructing block banks in the Lower Darling to create small pools of critical water.

Unfortunately, drought conditions have continued, Lake Pamamaroo is forecast to empty and releases from the storages will soon cease. Remaining water must be dedicated to the highest priority needs of town water supply, stock and domestic and permanent plantings. These measures will help to extend water supply for Broken Hill until the pipeline from Wentworth is operating in the first half of 2019.

Some very limited irrigation supply will be available to support primarily permanent plantings during the summer months. On-going irrigation supply (into 2019/20) will be dependent upon future inflows, after ensuring enough water is first available to meet critical human and environmental water needs.

“This drought is the worst on record across NSW and the Darling River and its catchments have been one of the regions most impacted by these harsh conditions,” said Adrian Langdon, WaterNSW’s executive manager of System Operation & Asset Maintenance.

“While we understand temporary pumping restrictions have a significant impact on customers’ business plans, it is unfortunately necessary in this instance. The Menindee lakes are currently at 3 per cent of capacity and outlook remains bleak.

“WaterNSW has consulted regularly with Lower Darling customers and community throughout the drought and worked diligently with government to preserve available water for as long as possible.

“This has included building two block banks downstream of Pooncarie, at Jamesville and Ashvale. Two more have been constructed above Pooncarie, at Karoola and Court Nareen.

“Once the upper two block banks are filled with remaining supplies from Pamamaroo in coming weeks, releases from the Menindee system will cease, as will flow below Weir 32, the headwater of the Lower Darling.”

The taking of water will be restricted to:

  • Town water supply,
  • Domestic use,
  • Stock watering,
  • Irrigation of existing permanent plantings such as vineyards and orchards, and
  • Any other irrigation, but only using water taken from Copi Hollow, up to a maximum limit of 500 megalitres, and only where the water is taken under the authority of a regulated river (high security) access licence.

The order will expire on 30 June 2019, unless modified or cancelled due to changes to water availability.

For more information on this Temporary Water Restriction, please call 1300 662 077 or email: Customer.Helpdesk@waternsw.com.au

Source: WaterNSW 2019-01

Action needed for energy and water challenges

The big challenge facing us all is feeding the world’s growing population in a changing climate, while maintaining quality products and nurturing the environment.

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The tag line ‘doing more with less’ is often used as shorthand for this challenge, but what does it actually mean? In practice, it means farming systems will need to intensify.

A fundamental step to achieving this is adequately protecting the limited, prime agricultural land we have – something the Queensland Farmers’ Federation continues to work hard to realise.

To highlight just how important this is, it useful to consider that currently around 70 per cent of Queensland’s farm gate gross value of production is being produced on or is dependent on (i.e. intensive animal production) only about 2.5pc of the state’s total land area. The other fundamental piece of the puzzle is properly addressing the energy-water-climate-food nexus.

While farmers are familiar with the interconnections between energy, water, climate and food production, policy and regulatory developments continue to treat these as distinctly separate areas. Government policy does not provide essential and enabling services such as electricity and water at a ‘fair cost’ for agriculture. As trade-exposed price takers, farm businesses have virtually no ability to offset these costs and are more vulnerable than most to a changing climate.

Where energy is concerned, over the past 10 years the price of electricity has increased about 10 times the rate of inflation. A critical input for intensifying agriculture, electricity has now become a major, and in some cases an unsustainable, cost for farm businesses. This is evidenced by figures from the Australian Energy Regulator that show there was an 82pc increase in small business disconnections by Ergon Retail (regional Queensland) in 2016-17.

Similarly, the price of water and the associated pumping costs are becoming prohibitive, as evidenced by about 300,000ML of unutilised water sitting in existing public storages, very low take-up of additional water releases and farmers reverting to lower productivity, dryland agriculture.

Moreover, as the Queensland Competition Authority investigates prices for bulk water supply schemes and distribution systems, some irrigators will face significantly higher prices because of cost increases to maintain scheme assets, rising electricity and insurance costs, and the impacts of lower water demand forecasts.

Additionally, global trends point to consumers becoming more environmentally and carbon conscious about their future food. In response to this social change, a body of evidence is building that sparing natural habitats by using high-yield farming to produce food is the best option for feeding the world while saving its species, as using less land may also produce fewer pollutants, cause less soil loss and consume less water.

However, without more deliberate action to resolve the ‘water-efficiency’ and ‘energy intensity’ trade-off taking place in agriculture, the likelihood of perverse and wasteful outcomes will increase. There are many elements and layers to the energy-water-climate-food nexus, but ‘modular’ solutions are achievable and will deliver results for farmers.

With climate change upon us, solutions to these problems are urgent; however, there is no central authority working to solve them. QFF is calling on the state and federal governments to assume responsibility and examine the water-energy-climate-food nexus and the implications of not addressing this key issue for the future of Queensland agriculture.

Source: Queensland Country Life 2019-01

Darling fish deaths blamed on water mismanagement

Water mismanagement, not drought, was blamed for more than 10000 native fish deaths prior to Christmas in the lower Darling River.

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‘‘Government departments blame the drought for this tragedy. This is not the whole story,’’ the party candidate for Barwon, Roy Butler, said.

‘‘The truth is their own incompetence and mismanagement of water resources killed the fish.

‘‘And they’re killing the surrounding towns and communities too.’’

The seat of Barwon includes the lower Darling River, where the dead fish were found.

Mr Butler said the 10000 fish were dead due to the low levels of poor quality slow-flowing water along a 50km stretch of the Darling River.

These are ideal conditions for a bloom of the deadly bacteria known as blue-green algae.

‘‘While the hot weather and lack of rain have been the catalyst for the disaster, we must ask one question,’’ Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate for Murray Helen Dalton said.

‘‘Why are water levels and flows so low?

‘‘It’s because federal and state governments have drained water from the Menindee Lakes and flushed it out to man-made lakes in South Australia.

‘‘The Federal Government’s Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the NSW Liberal National government are the guilty parties.

‘‘If they hadn’t drained so much water away, there would be enough available now to flush the river. This would create the fast movement of water needed to prevent the deadly algae from blooming.’’

Mr Butler said that in 2016 the Menindee Lakes were full and overflowing. That was when MDBA ramped up its draining of the lakes.

‘‘By late-2017, as drought began to bite, Menindee was down to 40 per cent capacity. The locals knew the big dry was set to continue, so begged the MDBA to stop releasing their water.

‘‘But the MDBA completely ignored them, and flushed another 70billion litres of water away. The NSW Government also continued to drain the Menindee Lakes.’’

Source: Country News 2019-01

We haven’t left the starting line for Murray Darling Basin Plan

As a small population in a big country, Australians have long enjoyed the idea that we have enough natural resources to go around.

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That is enough for agriculture and wilderness, and everything in between. That notion has been challenged over the past couple of decades.

Like everywhere else in the world, we’re having to make tough decisions about how we manage the balance between environment and people.

Australia has a one million square kilometre case study in this wicked problem: the Murray Darling Basin.

Despite the millions spent on trying to formulate a lasting solution to resource conflict in the Basin, it can seem as though we haven’t yet left the starting line.

And if there’s anything to be learned from a recent Basin-wide survey of water users, it is that any solution must begin with, and end with, people, particularly those with ‘skin in the game’ – our rural communities.

In parallel with our politics, the Basin discussion has to date has often been framed around conflict: environment vs agriculture, state vs state, irrigation district vs irrigation district.

But that’s not what people want.

Outside our houses of Parliament, Australians are calling for governance that isn’t limited by ideology, looks beyond election cycles, and is mindful that our elected representatives are public servants, not players in their own drama.

It is no coincidence that Basin users feel similarly about Basin governance.

Across the Basin, communities have the sense that they are outsiders looking through a window while others determine their fate based on rules they had no hand in creating.

In community after community, people are saying they want a whole-of-basin approach to water management and compliance.

They want better reporting about the success, or otherwise, or water efficiency measures, water allocation and the use of environmental water.

Just as people want the Basin treated as a whole, they want their communities respected as more than a statistic.

They seek governance that understands communities as multi-generational, with histories and hopes for a dynamic and prosperous future.

Without people as willing participants in the process, the Basin Plan is a vessel without power, adrift in a rough sea of politics.

No amount of science or brute decision-making can change the reality that the Basin’s people determine the success or failure of any plan.

Nation-building requires a narrative that carries a whole nation with it. Basin-building requires a compelling story for the whole Basin.

We seem to be currently stuck with forces that want to splinter us into warring tribes.

I hope the Basin survey reminds our decision makers that out here in the real world, people, land and water are parts of a whole, and need to be treated as such.

I hope also that rural communities remember that they have agency.

I’ve crisscrossed the country over the past year, and I’ve heard a lot of complaint about the bush being hard done by.

Whatever the truth of the issue, it’s not helpful to slip towards a hand-out mentality. We in the bush need to largely look after ourselves.

That means taking leadership of issues like water allocation in the MDB. That means also working out an equitable balance between environment and enterprise.

We are not going to find the solution to this issue in an industry sector, or governments, or lobby groups.

It will come from whole communities coming together around the desire to find long-term solutions to how we allocate and use the most precious resource for all life on Earth.

Solutions that rely on exerting political power will inevitably be only short-term. Political solutions are likely to be dumped down the track by a new political power.

To last, solutions have to work for most people, most of the time.

We haven’t seen leadership along these lines coming from our houses of Parliament, or our compromised public service.

It’s really up to us.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Rural Aid situation a symptom of bigger issues around drought support

The problems around drought charities, as details of further investigations come to light, demonstrates the need for a different model in this space.

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The rise of drought charities also highlights the shortcomings of governments over a period of time.

As state and federal governments have tried to withdraw from drought support, and instead focus on encouraging preparedness and self-reliance, it has done so in a way that has created a need/opportunity for these charities to step in.

A lot of farmers would agree a shift needs to continue away from the old response of subsidies and hand-outs, but the current attempt lacks planning, funding and understanding.

This year tested the equality of drought support, be it who’s eligible, the industries that could (or couldn’t) apply (including small business), or instances where those who had been eligible for Farm Household Allowance support have later had to pay it back despite still being in hardship, as seen in the dairy industry.

And then there’s all the paperwork which has also made it hard for many to access support.

When times get tough, it’s great to see that people in our cities do care and want to provide some help, but they need to be able to do so through an avenue with transparency and accountability.

That money also needs to be used in a way that doesn’t distort markets, such as with hay, where producers who are in a position to buy their own fodder don’t find themselves priced out the market.

So we currently have a situation where large amounts of money are going into charities with little transparency, while on the government side, support access is hindered by red tape and the policies have struggled to transition away from subsidies.

There is a need to adopt a more accountable approach, where instead of dollars coming from the public via charities, a more strategic structure exists which also engages more directly with farmers on the ground.

If financial support is needed, as seen this year, it also needs to be more organised and accessible and its use could be a feedback mechanism of where more on-ground (preparedness/training) support is also needed longer term.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Rapid change to follow scorching temperatures across Australia

Temperatures across eastern Australia had pushed above 40 degrees before noon on Friday, although a cool change is pushing through South Australia.

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Renmark hit 44 degrees around 11.30 SA time, while Mildura was at 43, while into western NSW, the mercury at centres such as Tibooburra and Bourke was also nudging 40 before midday.

But the change is on its way.

At Adelaide Airport the temperature fell four degrees in just half an hour from 4 to 4.30 in the morning, while Lameroo dropped from over 40 to 35 in a similar timeframe.

While the change will bring relief in terms of the heat it is expected to bring its own challenges.

Blustery south-westerly breezes and dry lightning may be a feature of the change, meaning the fire risk remains extremely high in many districts.

It is a total fire ban across all of Victoria today, with extreme fire danger, the second highest rating behind catastrophic, for the Wimmera and Mallee.

In SA, there is a severe fire danger rating for the Flinders, Mid North and Riverland fire districts.

At present the national fire focus is on Tasmania, where a number of blazes are burning out of control.

The hottest temperatures are expected in eastern Victoria and the south-western Riverina, where the change will not blow through until this evening.

Centres such as Swan Hill, Echuca and Deniliquin are all expected 46 degrees, while in Finley, in the Riverina, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) expects the mercury to nudge 47 degrees.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Australian dollar hit by slump to decade lows

Australian agricultural exporters could be among the beneficiaries of a sharp slump in the value of the Australian dollar.

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On Thursday, the AUD slipped to US67.49 cents, the lowest value in over a decade, before recovering to US69.31c later in trade.

At the start of Thursday trading the AUD was over US70c before the sharp dip.

International investors, spooked by the poor end to the year on financial markets, have flocked to the safe haven investment of the US dollar, which has soared in the early part of 2019, spurred on by the US Federal Reserve hiking interest rates.

In comparison, the dollar did not fall by as much in comparison to other currencies such as the UK pound or the euro.

Much of the blame for the drop was apportioned to weaker economic data out of China, where the manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in over a year and a half.

Analysts believe the US / China trade war is starting to impact the Asian giant.

Australia’s heavy reliance on China as a trade partner means bad financial news there has a big impact on Aussie markets.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Optimism the only option for 2019 weather

The new year is upon us and should there be cause for optimism or pessimism on the weather front in the coming year?

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After a very dry year, the patterns started to change from October 2018 and the past three months have brought partial relief in some areas. Variable weather patterns are always difficult to predict because they can affect some areas and miss others and it is impossible to forecast which areas will benefit more than a few days ahead.

This turn around developed despite a developing El Nino in the Pacific.

However the El Nino was different and to date, the atmosphere has not reflected an El Nino as much as the sea temperature patterns.

This is one feature that has not occurred before and therefore looking for similar years in the past on which to base a forecast has not been possible. The other factor present is warm ocean waters worldwide.

There is more energy stored in the world’s oceans that at any time in recorded history.

Although debate can continue on the causes of climate change, there is little doubt that the climate is changing and the world is becoming warmer.

That is now a factor we have to accept and look for ways of living with it effectively and beneficially. Unfortunately this is also something that has not occurred previously so once again looking for past years to assist in predicting the future trends are impossible.

Warm ocean waters around eastern Australia will encourage late summer and autumn rains in 2019.

However, the Indian Ocean is a little cooler off the north-west coast of the country and this could restrict autumn and early winter north-west cloud bands which can produce useful falls. The other advantage of north-west cloud bands is they can produce more uniform rain events rather than the variable and patchy ones we have been experiencing.

So all this means rain in eastern Australia in 2019 is likely to be better and more spread across the year than it was in 2018 but it is unlikely to be sufficient in some areas to overcome the severe deficiencies of the past year.

Temperatures are favoured to stay above normal generally but the occasional severe event is an increased possibility.

Whatever the weather I hope 2019 brings you all some cause for optimism and may you “weather” the next year in peace and contentment.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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