0801 GMT December 11, 2019
Summertime, and the living seems easy. But the fish aren’t jumping in the Darling River basin and the cotton is not as high as it would normally be in central-northern New South Wales (NSW) and southern Queensland as horrendous drought conditions grip much of eastern Australia.
How bad is it? Eighty percent of NSW is officially in drought. Concerns about severity have moved well beyond the obvious and substantial impact on grazing and cropping industries. The big worry now is the critical impact on water reserves, riverine habitats and sub-soil moisture content, theage.com.au wrote.
The Bureau of Meteorology says nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.
Drinking water is being trucked into Walgett because there is almost no flow in the nearby Barwon and Namoi. South-east of Broken Hill, the Menindee Lakes, an extraordinary chain of freshwater lakes fed by the Darling, contain just three percent of their capacity — and will probably fall dry this week as temperatures soar above 40°C. Near Weir 32, a crucial water-holding and measuring station near the town of Menindee, many thousands of fish perished in recent weeks after extreme temperature changes and toxic algae blooms depleted already low oxygen levels in the water.
Fingers are being pointed up river and down in a bid to lay blame. Cotton irrigators draw too much water, many say. The cotton industry rejects any blame. The water management system is a mess, say others, blaming water authorities for poorly timed and excessive releases from water-holding areas along the Darling.
Think we’ve been here before? You’re right. It was less than a decade ago. The 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which was intended to resolve the complex tussle for precious water resources, has ‘failed at its first drought’, as a senior water researcher at the Australian Institute aptly noted.
The Bureau of Meteorology last week released data showing 2018 was Australia’s third-warmest year since a national records database was established in 1907. The bureau said nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.
The bureau also released a monthly drought report last week, showing vast areas of central and western NSW and central Queensland have recorded severe rainfall deficiencies for almost two years. In some areas, this marks the driest period on record.
Here, again, we have evidence that global climate change is affecting the way we live. Extreme weather conditions such as drought, severe storms and soaring temperatures, are causing regular disturbances and huge commercial losses in rural and city regions alike. The insurance industry recognizes it, businesses are alert to it, and the greater agricultural community has responded by changing cropping, grazing and water management practices.
So what is it with some federal members that they simply will not accept the science, or choose to ignore it? For reasons of political power-gaming, trenchant commercial stubbornness or blind ideology, some conservatives would have you believe that climate change science is a fiction propagated by leftists.
Enough. Our planet is warming. Our land is drying. Our seas are rising. And we need our leaders to confront the problem. Bipartisan decisions must be made now to implement practical, substantial and genuine reductions in carbon emissions, and to tackle the crisis in our waterways. Time is running out.
*Alex Lavelle is the editor of The Age.