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Csiro warns groundwater use is depleting rive -

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Csiro warns groundwater use is depleting rivers

The World Today - Tuesday, 17 June , 2008 12:42:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

EMMA ALBERICI: The CSIRO has released the latest in a series of reports on the effects of climate
change in the Murray-Darling Basin, and the picture looks grim.

The report estimates that by 2030 there will be nine per cent less water in the Murrumbidgee
catchment in southern New South Wales

Irrigators say these reports ignore the social and economic cost of less water on farming
communities and they want further studies to be done.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: Currently just over half of the surface water in the Murrumbidgee catchment is
diverted to farms and towns in the region.

The CSIRO latest regional report on the Murrumbidgee shows if the current rate of use continues,
combined with the impact of climate change, there'll be nine per cent less water available by 2030.

Dr Tom Hatton is the director of the CSIRO Research flagship on Water.

He says that means a little bit less water will be available for irrigators and much less water
will leave the catchment into wetlands.

TOM HATTON: It's serious enough when you look at how that changes the flooding regimes of the
wetlands in the mid and lower Murrumbidgee river system. So in that sense, there are some concerns,
but there would also be concerns for irrigators who, two or three or four per cent less water
doesn't sound like much when you stand back and say it, but for a particular irrigators, that water
is all at the margin and it's very, very valuable.

JENNIFER MACEY: This report is the latest in a series of regional studies into the possible impacts
of climate change on water availability with a final report on the entire Murray-Darling Basin to
be released later this year.

But irrigators say these reports are dependent on variable climate change estimates.

Andrew Gregson is the CEO of the New South Wales Irrigators Council.

And he's calling for further studies that look at the socioeconomic impacts on region communities

ANDREW GREGSON: At the moment it looks like the only determinant of the way that water is to be
managed is the CSIRO sustainable yield studies. Now, look, they are a vital part of the mix, but at
the same time, we need to be considering the social and economic impact. Not only on rural
communities in Australia, but also on the urban communities in Australia and our export partners
overseas. Because remember that irrigators are food producers.

JENNIFER MACEY: CSIRO's Dr Tom Hatton says here's worried about the use of groundwater which is
expected to grow in the Murrumbidgee by 20 per cent over the next two decades.

TOM HATTON: An increasingly large fraction of the total water in many regions that's available for
use, there's this problem of double accounting, "robbing Peter to pay Paul', where you take
groundwater that would have ended up in the river. So you're actually taking it, some of it, from
the river. And that's what we quantified right around the basin.

JENNIFER MACEY: But it's not just farmers and towns that draw water from underground aquifers.

Mining companies are also big users of groundwater.

Neville Williams is the lead Native Title Claimant that's challenging Gold Mine on Lake Cowal in
central western NSW.

NEVILLE WILLIAMS: When the mine is in full production, they can pump up to 17 megalitres of water a
day. Now, that amount of water, that's 17 Olympic swimming pools. That's when the miners in full
production.

And we must remember that water is more precious than gold.

JENNIFER MACEY: But the mining company, Barrick, says it's never reached the maximum water usage
that's it's permitted to under its licences.

Bill Shelby is the communications manager for the Cowal Gold mine.

BILL SHELBY: Barrick is happy to be treated like all other users in the systems where a primary
industry just the same as farmers are. Out there to work with people, not to do undo damage to the
underground water system. We need to make sure that that's sustainable in some form into the
future.

JENNIFER MACEY: Amy Hankinson from the Inland Rivers Network says any future water sharing
agreement must include all users of groundwater. And that includes mining companies.

AMY HANKINSON: Absolutely. Mines can be huge users of groundwater and if they're taking that much
water out, then it's going to have impacts on other users and the environment. So that absolutely
has to be part of all planning. And then, there actually needs to be an embargo on all new
groundwater licenses until this brought under control.

EMMA ALBERICI: Amy Hankinson from the Inland Rivers Network ending that report by Jennifer Macey.