First Qld river caps set

31st May 2007

Water diversions from rivers in Queensland that fall within the Murray Darling Basin will be capped for the first time, after limits proposed by the State Government for four river valleys were approved by state premiers in Adelaide last Friday.

The Murray Darling Basin ministerial council meeting approved annual diversion limits totalling 89.6 gigalitres a year proposed for the Paroo, Warrego, Nebine and Moonie rivers.

Until now no cap figures have been set for Queensland valleys in the basin making it impossible to compare diversions with annual targets adjusted for climate and trade, or the long-term cap and leaving the state open to accusations by southern states of systematically taking more water than it should.

Murray Darling Basin Commission chief executive Wendy Craik said the new caps were a step closer to having caps in place across all basin valleys.

“What this means is that we now have formal limits on diversions from those four rivers, which can be audited,” she said.

“It continues the process of trying to make sure that we manage our water resources properly.”

Caps are yet to be set on the Condamine/Balonne and Border Rivers valleys in Qld, but Dr Craik said it was expected these would be put to the commission by the end of the year or early 2008.

NSW is also yet to set caps for the Border Rivers and there have been no caps set in the ACT.

An audit of diversions from the Basin in 2005/06 released by the council last week revealed that 9119GL was diverted during the year, the sixth lowest annual diversion since 1983/84.

Of this, 4987GL (54.7pc) was diverted by NSW, 3222GL (35.3pc) by Victoria; 573GL (6.3pc) by South Australia; 305GL (3.3pc) by Queensland and 32GL (0.4pc) by the Australian Capital Territory.

Contrary to popular perception, most NSW valley diversions were within cap limits, with the exception of the Barwon-Darling/Lower Darling, which breached its cap for the third year running, diverting 6GL more than its 193GL 2005/05 target.

Diversions are monitored on a cumulative basis and Dr Craik said the repeated breaches had left the valley 143GL over its cap, triggering a special audit of the system.

The audit report reveals there are currently issued entitlements in the combined Barwon/Darling of 524GL against a current cap of 173GL.

Dr Craik said the NSW Government had committed to scaling back entitlements by two thirds to reflect the cap target from July 1 this year in an attempt to address the ongoing over-diversion.

Diversions from the Goulburn/Loddon/Broken system also breached the annual trade-adjusted cap of 1539GL for the system in 2005/06 by 10GL, but are cumulatively well within the cap.

Whether current cap limits are sustainable has been the subject of considerable debate.

Dr Craik said the both the MDBC and the CSIRO were looking at the sustainability of extractions from the basin.

“We should have more of an idea by the end of the year,” she said.

SOURCE: Stock and Land, Vic.