Billions wasted in water recovery subsidies, reveals ANU study

Thursday, 07 March, 2019

Billions wasted in water recovery subsidies, reveals ANU study

An ANU study has revealed that billions of dollars are being wasted in water recovery subsidies to increase irrigation efficiency across the Murray–Darling Basin.

The Australian Government estimates that $3.5 billion in subsidised water infrastructure has increased stream and river flows across the Murray–Darling Basin of around 700 GL/year. However, the ANU study found that the subsidised water infrastructure may have only delivered 70 GL/year increases — 630 GL/year less than the government’s estimate.

Professor John Williams from the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy at ANU commented that 630 GL is more than the body of water in Sydney Harbour. “Simply put, without independent and comprehensive water accounting, including what is happening to return flows and the effects of multibillion-dollar subsidies for irrigation infrastructure on stream flows, expect more fish kills, a continuing environmental crisis and no peace in the Murray–Darling Basin,” Prof Williams said.

Co-researcher Professor Quentin Grafton said their analysis showed the average cost of water recovery for infrastructure subsidies could be as much as $50 million per GL returned to the Murray–Darling Basin each year. “We calculate that the actual average cost of increasing stream and river flows from subsidies to increase irrigation efficiency infrastructure in the Murray–Darling Basin could be 10 times more expensive than what is estimated by the Australian Government and 25 times more expensive per litre of water recovered than buying back water entitlements from willing sellers,” Prof Grafton said.

The Greens claim that the ANU report is another piece of evidence showing that the Murray–Darling Basin Plan is failing.

Greens environment and water spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said, “Billions of dollars that [were] meant to be spent saving the river [have] instead been handed to big irrigators and [have] left the environment in collapse. This report from the ANU is yet more evidence that the plan to save the river is not working.

“Instead of forking out billions to corporate irrigators for measures that don’t return water to the river, we need to lift the ban on buybacks and place an embargo on corporate cotton growers extracting water from the river.

“The Greens will continue to push for a federal Royal Commission to get to the bottom of what is going on. Economists, lawyers and respected scientists are telling us business as usual is leaving the river for dead. The Liberal–National Government is overseeing the destruction of the nation’s most important river system. It must be investigated.”

Read the ANU peer-reviewed study in the Australasian Journal of Water Resources.

Image credit: ©Flickr/Tim J Keegan

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