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Murray-Darling water plan flawed, says expert -

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LISA MILLAR: After months of disagreements, the Murray-Darling plan was meant to be the answer to
the country's severe water problems. But now a leading expert says it's flawed and needs to be
urgently improved.

Professor Mike Young, a member of the respected Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, says the
deal, finally signed off on by state and federal governments just over a week ago, won't help in
the current drought.

Professor Young says changes should include introducing fines for states that go over their water
allocation cap, and more priority given to environmental river flows.

He's speaking here to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

MIKE YOUNG: We're in a very, very serious situation. There's been a lot of talk about
over-allocation and about buying volumes and how to do that.

The real problem is we have a foundation which is in the Murray-Darling Basin, which is built
around volumetric concepts. South Australia has a guaranteed flow, which is not being delivered.
There a lot of other things about volumes.

What we need is a sharing regime that's designed for this century, and that means we give people
percentage shares, give states percentage shares and then we appoint an authority at the top, an
independent authority that has one simple responsibility and that is to work out how much water can
be allocated to shareholders. And the environment can be an equal shareholder. As we agreed under
the National Water Initiative it would be.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement was designed at the end of a very, very long wet period and it's
not designed to deal with very long dries. It doesn't get storage management right and it doesn't
get sharing right and it doesn't give the environment a share.

So, what I'm suggesting and recommending as strongly as I can is that we need to place a proper
sharing agreement at the top of the Murray-Darling Basin agreement that can be confidently
explained as likely to work no matter what happens.

And we have an opportunity, COAG (Council of Australian Governments) could decide they meet again
in July, to put in there an implementation trigger, that says if it stays dry, if we were to remain
with high salinity levels, we confidently go forward into a new sharing regime.

NANCE HAXTON: Did the agreement that the last COAG meeting came to, did that not really address
these issues that you're speaking of?

MIKE YOUNG: It was a very important step forward and everybody's to be commended to starting to
talk positively about the solutions. But there are many things that we're missing.

We don't have a commitment to do anything more than to buy water. We also have to be very careful
with the modernisation money that's being spent, because being proposed to be spent. The
modernisation money, in many cases, will be taking water that used to flow into the river and
giving it back to irrigators and to towns and cities.

We all have to understand the ground and surface water is connected and that seepage and leakage,
leaks and seeps are back into the river and is already in the river. So, that is not a real saving.

NANCE HAXTON: So what have you concerns is also looking back into past history of the drought in
the 1930s and how long that was and how long that that really could mean this current drought that
we're experiencing this as well.

MIKE YOUNG: One of the ones that's not talked about a lot started in 1938. And if we clip that
period out, that rainfall sequence out, and paste it in starting in 2002 when this drought started,
then this year was a wet year. But it went straight back into a drought and we won't get out of
jail until 2014.

I hope that doesn't happen, but the reality is, we do not have a system in place which enables us
to manage if this drought stays in place for another seven or so years.

NANCE HAXTON: And you're arguing that state should be punished if they go over their cap as well?

MIKE YOUNG: Yes, I continue to be amazed that if an irrigator or a town takes more water than they
were entitled to, then they get fined. But if a state takes more water than it's entitled to, the
Minister only has to apologise to a ministerial council. If we're going to have a system, then it
has to have integrity at the top, as well as integrity at the bottom.

LISA MILLAR: Professor Mike Young speaking to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.