A few weeks ago, following the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society conference in Adelaide I drove with my Risk and Sustainable Management Group colleagues David Adamson and Sarah Chambers to Melbourne, going by way of the Murray River. David and Sarah had been to the Coorong in a pre-conference tour and on our trip together we managed to visit all the remaining ‘icon’ sites – these are the sites that are supposed to best represent the environmental values of the Basin.
There was quite a striking pattern, though not so surprising given the way water allocation works in the Australian federal system. The South Australian (downstream) sites, the Coorong and Chowilla, were much drier than would be expected under normal conditions, even allowing for a long drought. Things were much better in the Victorian (upstream) sites (Hattah Lakes, Gunbower Forest and the Barmah-Millewa). The Murray channel itself, which is the sixth icon site, shows the same pattern. There’s a problem with the icon sites approach – they are supposed to be representative indicators, but the temptation is to throw a lot of resources at the icon sites, and ignore everything else.
There are some reasons for optimism though. Most obviously, it’s been raining an awful lot in Queensland since our return, and some of that water is bound to make its way down the Darling and on to South Australia (we’re now trying to estimate how much). There’s also a major project going on at Chowilla to ensure that at least some of the floodplain there can actually get flooded from time to time. And, with the drought at least partly broken, the Rudd government’s policy of buying back water rights from holders willing to sell looks as if it will pay off. Hopefully, this will mean an end to some of the sillier engineering projects on the table, which will save only small amounts of water at very high cost.
There’s a set of pictures from the trip at my Flicker site
A few scattered observations:
* Even a modest tourism cash flow can make a big difference to the viability of a farm operation, particularly if the location is too far from town to make off-farm employment an attractive option
* When we planned the trip, we intended to focus on meetings with SA and Victorian irrigator groups, including some of we’ve worked with in the past. But the logistics and timing didn’t work out for that. So, we’ll go back next year and plan further in advance
* If you know any of us in RSMG, you’ll know that finding good coffee is an essential feature of a good trip. Northwestern Victoria looked potentially challenging, but I’m pleased to report that you can get excellent coffee in Manangatang. The cafe attached to the hotel also had a very appealing looking lunch menu, but not available on Sundays unfortunately. Swan Hill also has a nice cafe/ice-creamery