How I think the Murray Darling system should be managed

Back in May, I discussed how I believe the Murray Darling System should be managed. The short hand of this is that I believe it should be an objective, at the federal level, that treats this major water way much like the budget; with projections made of expect flows over the coming year, the governing body delivers to each dependant sector how much water can be used, which is then distributed amount that sectors management body amongst the water users.

That this water way fuels the lives of millions of people across four states and one territory (arguably without it, SA wouldn’t be much of a state), but is almost entirely governed at regional levels is absurd. The only thing more absurd is SA’s interest in compensating a bad situation with a de-salination plant.

The Lower Lakes of the Murray mouth are at best fragmented pools, further upstream environmental managers usually have to decide which wetlands are going to be inundated over others and we see the solution as providing expensive water to the Adelaide and Mt Lofty region?

Coupled with the idea I spoke about back in May, it seems to me that best option, if de-salination is required, would be to set up the process on the eastern coast line to assist the natural recharge process. This process could be largely if not entirely powered by renewable sources because intermittent recharge wouldn’t matter – that’s how the system natural works anyway! When we have times of good flow, we can either (or both) divert the water or power to local requirements. Again, this is not a state problem, neither should be the solution be state orientated.

Water security is already an issue in Australia, and it is a situation that will only get worse over the coming decades. Compulsory water tanks in Adelaide is about as useless and needlessly expensive to the tail-end users of the Murray Darling system as a local de-salination plant under current management systems (especially when residential use is relatively small). It’s like installing an expensive water filter on a purified water supply while ignoring your ailing water tank falling to pieces outside. Downstream life is made more expensive by poor management across the entire system.

The states involved in this issue have made a clear point that they are unwilling to be useful in addressing the problem.

We must make the noise.

The Murray Darling should be managed as a whole, regardless of boarders, with all sectors aware of this relationship. Assisted recharge at the source, exploiting renewable energy, is the only way that we can save a systems that feeds  half of Australia (many gigalitres more than a few generations ago). The expense of over-exploitation needs to be shared across this system. The solution needs to be shared by everyone who relies on the Murray Darling.


6 thoughts on “How I think the Murray Darling system should be managed

  1. If we cant fix one river system how are we going to stop the degradation of the entire climate system , But if we CAN fix one river system it gives hope for the entire climate .
    Imagine how difficult it is when the fight over water is not between states in a country but countries themselves .


    1. Indeed – some of the major waterways are across multiple countries – the Nile being a classic example. I also read a paper about water security between China and India which I can’t find now… (I thought it was Vaclav Smil?)
      There’s also this excellent paper recently in Nature (that I’m planning to comment on sooner or later) which looks into water security. Unfortunately, optimism used to be far greater a few years ago than it is today. The motivation is lost, however I hope we can rebuild direction.


  2. I think Adelaide’s desal plant is just a mechanism for reducing / replacing the unacceptable drawdown of Murray water for urban use. I just luuurve the idea of a double duty desal plant – make enough, plus a bit, water for a designated use then put it through a flow with ecological and other benefits on its path to delivery for the specified use.

    In the end, Adelaide’s water supply will be augmented by rainwater storage and stormwater processing and controlled by water restrictions. The very first restriction I would impose would be on houses with swimming pools. Having a swimming pool is perfectly fine, but installing one or buying a house with one should require on-site rainwater storage of a minimum of 150% of the pool capacity – so that the pool will n.e.v.e.r. be filled or topped up from the general supply. Has anyone calculated the total storage and evaporation lost from domestic pools?


    1. The unacceptable downdraw of the Murray starts way upstream – hence why I believe the desal should be at the other end. We’re simply unfortunately in the worst spot of a river in trouble.

      I agree, btw, about the swimming pools – filling them up on the mains is simply insane. We need better management of rainwater however – it is very likely to be undrinkable straight from the tank and so far getting it to a suitable level is too much for most to be bothered with.


  3. Undrinkable straight from the tank? You forget that for those of us who grew up on a water mains supply best described as “a meal in a glass”, rainwater made the very best cup of tea. It wasn’t dirty, I might add, but it was so hard that laundry soap manufacturers happily halved their budgets for advertising in SA because we used so much just to get a bit of suds in a washing machine.

    With modern initial diversion systems for rainfall events, rainwater shouldn’t be a problem anyway. Even if you live by a main road, keep pigeons and cover your roof with the ash residue from open fires, all the rubbish will go off to benefit the garden.


    1. I have a mate who works with SA water in the group that tested water quality, some of what they found in rainwater tanks is quite horrible – largely parasites and bacteria that were transferred through bird poo.. some could do nasty things to anyone who consumed them. If you get oleander material in there, I’d hate to see how that would end up (but that said, you’d have to be pretty silly for that to happen). We lived for 2 years in Whyalla and boiled the water from our tank and never had a problem, but the potential is there – that’s all I mean really.


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