Jamie Pittock is Director of International Programs for the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance. His current work includes developing research programs that link Australian and southern African expertise to improve management of river basins, green water and agriculture. He is also Program Leader for the Australia and United States’ Climate, Energy and Water project of the US Studies Centre and ANU Water Initiative.
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New research challenges the water saving measures that form a key platform of the Australian Government’s proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Dr Jamie Pittock of the Centre for Water Economics and Environmental Policy at Crawford School led a team that examined the output from the $280 million Government program, The Living Murray.
Dr Pittock said that while the Australia Government describes the program as “engineered landscape-scale flooding” of an internationally important wetland ecosystem, his research found that these works only maintained small areas of habitat, potentially causing negative environmental effects and failing with climate change.
“The health of the wetland ecosystems in the Basin has been declining over a long period of time mainly due to excessive water diversions,” he said.
“The notion that we can divide up the water in the Murray-Darling more and more with these engineering works – leaving less room for error – has big risks that the Australian Government has failed to recognise.”
Despite the considerable public money invested, Dr Pittock said that to date the works only enable watering of 0.6 per cent of the Basin’s wetlands when the same funds could purchase nearly 2.5 per cent of the water needed to sustain the river ecosystem.
“The Government has either failed to identify or glossed over the negative impacts of their proposed infrastructure, including watering of non-target wetlands, reducing water quality through salinity and blackwater events, and trapping fish,” he said.
“Inexplicably, the Government has not considered how their works would sustain the ecosystems with any reduction of water availability with climate change. They need to be more careful to quantify the costs, as well as the benefits, before gambling on engineering works as the way to maintain the ecological health of the Murray-Darling Basin.”
Dr Pittock’s findings are published in Hydrobiologica: The International Journal of Aquatic Sciences.