Facts, before Commitment, Mr Iemma
A couple of weeks ago, NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, announced "the biggest environmental spending package in NSW history". A highlight of the package was a $105 million funding program to "restore the health of our inland rivers and icon wetlands".
It is not as though environmental water hasn't already been allocated for icon wetlands. In 2000 the newly formed NSW Murray Wetland Working Group was given a yearly allocation of 30,000 megalitres of water from 'water saving' made by Murray Irrigation Limited. The environmental water was to be used to save red gums, water wetlands and could also be traded.
In the first four years, the working group traded about half the water they had been allocated. In 2002, at the height of the drought, they sold almost their entire allocation for that year of 23,000 megalitres. Water was selling for a premium price and the environment group pocketed a handy $3.8 million, with much of the money from this trade used to build a fish ladder to assist fish to travel past a weir on the Murray River.
This may have been a good investment. But it is impossible to know because there was no environmental monitoring program in place.
When I asked the Murray Darling Basin Commission in June 2004 how much water wetland working groups have been nominally allocated overall, and how this water is generally applied, I was told: "I am not able to advise you of the volume of environmental water throughout the Basin. Environmental water comes in a variety of forms including: minimum flows, environmental flow rules, contingency allowances and tradeable entitlements."
There is a lot of money potentially involved in managing environmental water, yet it is hard to access basic information.
Premier Iemma wants to continue the Bob Carr legacy of throwing money at the environment. But more money and more water isn't necessarily the solution. More water may not result in more water birds, more red gums or more fish.
A full audit of current environmental flow allocations should be undertaken before any more money is spent on water for wetlands.