Page 2108 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 21 June 2011

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the ACT’s diversions from the current net 40 gigalitres per year cap under the MDBA agreement cap to net 21 to 26 gigalitres per year under the new SDLs.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that the ACT supports the overarching goal of the proposed basin plan to return water to the environment as a necessary action to ensure the sustainability of the basin. Notwithstanding this position, the government has expressed a number of serious concerns with the proposals in the guide for the ACT. The guide treats the ACT differently from other basin jurisdictions. This results in the ACT having the highest percentage of proposed water reductions of all basin jurisdictions despite its track record of successful water resource management.

The ACT is a minor water user in the basin context, accounting for less than one per cent of basin water resources. The ACT is also a responsible and environmentally sustainable water manager. About 50 per cent of the ACT’s water resources are legislated for the environment. In an average year, the ACT only diverts a net eight per cent, after the return of treated effluent to the river system, of its water resources available for consumptive use.

This has not been recognised in the guide. There is no consideration of the ACT as a distinct water resource management area with a history of prudent water resource management. The guide simply treated the ACT as a sub-unit of the broader Murrumbidgee region, without any analysis, or indeed understanding, of the management of the water resources within the ACT.

The guide designates a net rather than gross SDL for the ACT. This not only treats the ACT differently from other jurisdictions, but also undermines water re-use incentives. The decision to re-use treated waste water on sports fields, for example, becomes more difficult if that water counts towards the ACT SDL.

The guide also sets the ACT surface water SDL on the basis of the ACT cap under the Murray-Darling Basin agreement rather than the ACT water sharing plan, which describes the characteristics of the ACT water resource. This does not make sense, as the ACT cap reflects historical urban water use and bears no relation to the water-sharing arrangements in place between consumptive use and environmental flows. Moreover, this approach once again treats the ACT differently from other jurisdictions whose SDLs are set with reference to state water-sharing plans.

The guide did not consider ACT critical human water needs or future population growth by setting proposed SDLs that can only be met with permanent water restrictions. This is not tenable given recent projections which show that the ACT population is expected to hit the half a million mark by 2043. This figure does not include Queanbeyan, which is supplied from the same water source as the ACT.

The guide provides no analysis of the socioeconomic impacts of the proposed basin plan on the ACT region, despite this being required under the Water Act. In response, the ACT government commissioned its own independent economic analysis. This demonstrates that the costs of imposing water restrictions to manage demand to meet the guide’s proposed water cuts are substantial. Costs are estimated to rise from about

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