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Scientists say Cubbie buyback would help envi -

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Scientists say Cubbie buyback would help environment

Bronwyn Herbert reported this story on Monday, August 17, 2009 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: Scientists and conservation groups say the Federal Government could help the
environment by buying Cubbie Station. But they say it would be the graziers in northern New South
Wales who would benefit most rather than the parched lower reaches of the Murray-Darling system.

Bronwyn Herbert has our report.

BRONWYN HERBERT: In a good season, Cubbie Station's network of on-farm water storages and dams can
hold more than 530,000 megalitres of water. That's more than all the water in Sydney Harbour.

With Cubbie Station now up for sale, scientists say it would be a significant coup for the
environment if the Government bought the farm.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: Look obviously there is great symbolism in it because everyone has been talking
about the importance of Cubbie Station and how much water it holds and takes out of the river
system. Without a doubt the purchase would have immense benefit for the floodplain of the Lower
Balonne which is the largest floodplain that we've currently got in the Murray-Darling.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Richard Kingsford is a professor of environmental science at the University of New
South Wales. He says it is not as simple as Cubbie's water in Queensland restoring the parched
lower reaches of the Murray-Darling.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: The system is quite complicated. The Condamine-Balonne in which Cubbie Station
sits, essentially it is like a hand if you like and a delta coming down and on that delta there are
four rivers.

Those river systems supply this vast floodplain of 1.4 million hectares which is called the Lower
Balonne floodplain and essentially most of the water that would come down that river system would
go onto that floodplain and sustain large areas of floodplain eucalypts, lignum, places like the
Narran Lakes ecosystem, so only about 20 per cent of the Culgoa's flows will actually get it into
the Darling.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Mike Young is a professor of water economics at the University of Adelaide. He
says the biggest benefactors of a government buy back of Cubbie water would be farmers and graziers
in northern New South Wales.

MIKE YOUNG: So if the water rises then more and more people are allowed to pump and they are
allowed to pump for a longer time and take more water. So if you leave water in the river, as the
water flows down, then when it gets to the next property, then that property is allowed to take
more water.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Professor Young says if the environment was to benefit, there would need to be a
rewriting of the way water licenses are issued in New South Wales.

MIKE YOUNG: At the moment no way to what is called shepherd the water through the Darling system
and hold it for the environment. The licenses are just not written in the right way because nobody
contemplated ever having to do this sort of thing.

So the whole issue about going back and rewriting a basin plan and rewriting the licenses so that
when the Government buys Cubbie, if it did buy Cubbie, that in fact, the benefit goes all to the
environment and not just to other irrigators.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Arlene Buchan is the healthy rivers campaigner with the Australian Conservation
Foundation. She says the Government has already expressed concern that this water buyback would be
difficult because it comes with land. But she says these issues can be resolved.

ARLENE BUCHAN: The Minister says they can't buy the land. They can only buy the water. They faced
that issue with Toorale Station and they dealt with it by having another purchaser for the land.

There are also issues there about making sure that water which is acquired from Cubbie wouldn't be
extracted quite legitimately by downstream users.

This is an issue which is well recognised by other governments and there are good-faith efforts to
make sure that environmental water can be shepherded downstream and used for environmental benefits
and not extracted and used by other water users.

So there are some issues around here but they are understood and they are surmountable.

ELEANOR HALL: Arlene Buchan from the Australian Conservation Foundation ending that report from
Bronwyn Herbert.