Originally published in The Weekly Times, on 9 October 2019

The nation’s largest irrigator needs to do a better job of explaining why it is running the rivers so high and potentially putting the southern Murray Darling Basin into drought earlier than it needs to be.

The country’s largest irrigator, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, along with state environmental water holders, holds over 4.3 million megalitres of entitlements in the Murray Darling Basin and needs to show why they have called hundreds of thousands of megalitres of water out of our key storages in the midst of the worst drought parts of the basin have experienced.

This is leading to calls for water owned by taxpayers to be re-regulated once it has cleared the Barmah Choke and not sent down to the Lower Lakes at this stage.

The Commonwealth should be demanding an explanation as to why any further environmental releases should be made to flood forests.

Until that explanation is delivered no further releases of environmental water should be made. Environmental water already released should be re-regulated, where possible, to ensure water needs downstream of the Barmah Choke can be met without placing further strain on the choke. This will help keep transmission losses over summer to a minimum.

The drought in the northern Murray-Darling Basin has shown that it can get much worse than anything we have seen before.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised about the country’s big environmental water irrigators draining our key water storages to flood-irrigate forests while running the Lower Lakes up to 100 per cent full at the same time drought records are being broken in the Murray Darling Basin.

We don’t want to be in a dire situation in 12 months where we are saying ”if only environmental water managers had a bit more foresight and had kept more water in our storages for the environment”.

If the managers believe this isn’t the case they need to let people know that taxpayers’ environmental water is being put to best use and what plan they have if the drought intensifies.

It would be a travesty if we have learnt nothing from the Millennium drought and the Lower Lakes again fell below sea level because there was no plan in place to deal with it.