Australian Water Situation Worse Than Previously Thought

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For those of you who (understandably) don’t follow this matter, Australia is in the midst of a six year drought that shows no signs of abating. It has gotten so serious that agricultural irrigation may be severely curtailed, which will not only further damage badly depressed agricultural areas, but will destroy fruit trees that take years to reach maturity.

While most of the environmental talk in the Northern Hemisphere has focused on global warming and (to a much lesser degree) species loss, water is actually likely to pose a more immediate threat. Experts argue that water is the natural resource in the scarcest supply, and fresh water will become scarce well before 2050. Of course, water can be purified and recycled, but at considerable cost.

Thus Australia is a harbinger of what is to come in other areas of the world. And the latest news, that despite way too optimistic projections, the politics are gridlocked, is not encouraging.

From John Quiggin:

The bleak outlook for the Murray-Darling Basin [the largest freshwater source] has just got substantially worse with reports that inflows may have been overestimated by as much as 40 per cent, as a result of double counting of groundwater. Of course, as Malcolm Turnbull says in the article, the general problem is well-known to those working in the area. The Risk and Sustainable Management Group*, which I lead at UQ, has been working on it for some time, and so have lots of others. But, as we know all too well from our modelling efforts, there’s a huge gap between a qualitative understanding of the issues, and an adequate quantitative representation of flows of water and salt, not to mention the nutrients that contribute to things like blue-green algae blooms. Everyone is doing the best they can, but it will take a long time to get coherent data sets together, and time is something we don’t have.

In the meantime, policy is at a standstill because the National Party refuses to countenance voluntarily repurchase of water rights, let alone a scaling back of allocations that are, in retrospect, obviously unsustainable. Unless Turnbull can really start banging some heads together on this one, his first ministerial stint is going to end up a disastrous failure.

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