21. October 2021

NSW sought to beat Basin Plan water limits


The NSW authorities sought to enhance the quantity of water permitted to be extracted from the Murray-Darling Basin, revealing in an electronic mail that the Commonwealth physique in cost was “desperately afraid” of the media protection when the plan was made public.

“The [Murray Darling Basin Authority] is desperately afraid of the media coverage when it becomes apparent that the number for [the Baseline Diversion Limit] has gone substantially up,” wrote Andrew Brown, the principal water modeller with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, in an electronic mail dated July 22, 2018.

“There will be immediate claims that NSW is fiddling the figures, closely followed by questions about why MDBA isn’t stopping this from happening,” Mr Brown stated, including the authority would battle to tackle questions after an “initial shock phase”, together with how they bought it “so wrong”.

The emails, obtained below a name for papers by the Greens, present dialogue of the way extra water may very well be extracted from the basin whereas nonetheless remaining under the so-called baseline diversion restrict launched in 1995.

The principal water modeller within the NSW government warned a storm would break once it became clear that the models underpinning water extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin had changed.

The principal water modeller throughout the NSW authorities warned a storm would break as soon as it grew to become clear that the fashions underpinning water extraction within the Murray-Darling Basin had modified.Credit:Nick Moir

The launch of the emails comes forward of hearings this week of the NSW parliament’s Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry. It is wanting on the authorities’s efforts to meter and monitor water captured in dams as floodwaters move overland.


That water utilization was not included within the unique cap on water extraction below the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan that goals to restore the well being of the nation’s greatest river system.

“South Australia, Victoria, the ACT and Queensland have all adjusted their [baseline diversion limit] estimates with best available science,” a spokeswoman for Water Minister Melinda Pavey stated. “NSW expects to have the same opportunity”.

“We expect the inquiry to clear up a number of misconceptions this week and put us in a position to be the first state to measure and license floodplain harvesting by the end of next week,” the spokeswoman stated.

Cate Faehrmann, the NSW Greens water spokeswoman, stated the emails increase “red flags” across the division’s strategy to water modelling that couldn’t be ignored.

“These models are being used to grant compensable floodplain harvesting entitlements worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They must be held to the highest standards possible,” Ms Faehrmann stated. “If these models result in the over-allocation of water, it will have long-lasting and disastrous impacts on the Murray Darling Basin.”

The government wants to measure how much water is caught by dams from floods. Upstream water capture,  which has been permitted, comes at the cost of downstream communities and the environment.

The authorities desires to measure how a lot water is caught by dams from floods. Upstream water seize, which has been permitted, comes at the price of downstream communities and the surroundings.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Maryanne Slattery, a former Basin official who now works as a marketing consultant, claimed the emails advised the federal government and the Basin Authority have been “trying to hoodwink everybody” into permitting caps on water take to be exceeded.

“If they implement this as planned, there are no volumetric limits,” Ms Slattery stated. “It’s all just a circus.”

In different candid emailed feedback, Mr Brown stated in March 2018 {that a} new mannequin didn’t have to be good: “You might have a list of 10 things you know are wrong with the model, then fix one of them and it is still an improved model even with nine other things you know are wrong still. A model doesn’t even have to be fit for purpose to qualify as best available information.”

On June 3, 2018, Mr Brown additionally dismissed the authority’s demand to rent a marketing consultant to assist with the modelling. “[T]he consultant will still just come and ask somebody ‘what did you change and why’ and in most of the cases we don’t actually know any more because the person who did the work has left, or [it’s] just too long ago and they don’t remember.”


Jamie Pittock, the performing director of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists stated the federal government’s correspondence “demonstrates the cavalier manner in which it is managing water” together with exploiting each loophole within the nationwide water reforms to permit extra water to be extracted for irrigation on the expense of the surroundings, Indigenous nations, and downstream communities and industries.

“It is time that the federal government nationalised and published Basin water modelling to prevent state governments hiding behind their private modelling to abrogate their responsibilities,” he stated.

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