Photo: Daily Telegraph, the dry Edward River, part of the Murray Darling System
The announcement by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the taps to the irrigation pipes in the Murray Darling Basin would have to be turned off if there was not heavy rain in the catchment in the next six weeks has certainly attracted media and public attention.
I thought that it might be interesting if I traced the evolution of Australia's water wars as seen through the prism set by this blog. I wil do so. But now I need to declare a personal interest.
Australia's water wars have become personal.
New England is the wettest part of NSW. New England's great eastern flowing rivers from the Hunter in the south to the Tweed in the north rise in and flow through New England.
Of these rivers, the Clarence - the Big River - is New England's largest and by Australian standards a very big river indeed. To put this in perspective for Australian and especially NSW people, the Nepean Hawkesbury system is a minnow compared with the Clarence. The Clarence is also the only major Australian river left without a major dam.
The question of the best way of using New England's rivers to benefit New Englanders has been a steady thread in New England development discussions. From Earle Page in the first decades of the twentieth century to Zhini Buzo, Alex Buzo's dad, in the last half of the century people looked at alternative development paths.
Earle Page argued that the Clarence provided a great resource. One outcome was one of the first hydro plants in Australia.; the first was in fact also in New England near Armidale. Zhini argued that we should consider diverting some of the eastern flowing waters into the Murray-Darling system to help irrigate the slopes and plains of western New England.
There was always an issue here as to how we reconciled the interests of those living in the Clarence Valley. But this was a New England issue.
Some time ago I warned that we were going to see a grab for New England's water because New England is the wettest part of NSW. This has arrived with Minister Turnbull's desire to build a dam on the Clarence to provide water to Brisbane. We must, or so we are told, support this on the grounds that it is in the national interest. To do otherwise is to be parochial.
I am sorry, Malcolm, but this is a New England resource. If the water is to be diverted, then the residents of Brisbane should pay a market price to the residents of New England. This has to be high enough to compensate all those who will lose from the proposal plus those who might benefit from alternatives. I suspect that this might make desalination a rather viable alternative.
In writing on this blog about the water wars I will try to present the issues in a fair way, leaving my partisan arguments to the New England Australia blog. However, you need to be aware of my biases.
In the absence of our own Government to look after New England's interests, we are incredibly vulnerable. I will do the best I can through my blogs to present the New England case, to try to defend the New England interest.
In response to a comment by Lexcen on this post I admitted that my response to the Clarence dam issue was parochial. However, that does not make it wrong. I had a part completed post on the New England blog that I have now completed that sets out my position in a little more detail.
Having had time to think further, I am actually a bit puzzled about the whole Clarence dam thing. The immediate political problems associated with the dam including the National's position in Northern NSW make it unlikely in the short term. I think that the issue really has to be set within the broader politics of the water wars.