"Using a sledgehammer to kill a fly" : problems with dam water management plan

28 October 2014

The federal government's suggested investement in new dams is poor policy says Associate Professor Willem Vervoort from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment.

The suggestion was made in the federal government'sagriculture green paperpublished earlier this week.

"Using dams to secure water supply is similar to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Yes, it will kill the fly, but it is a fairly inefficient way of doing it, and you might destroy other valuable items on the way," says Associate Professor Vervoort in an article just published onThe Conversationwebsite.

He goes on to observe that:

  • dams store lots of water but also lose large amounts through high evaporation and seepage.
  • dams have a limited life span due to sedimentation and are known to have unintended upstream and downstream impacts.
  • while dams can provide some buffering of water supply in droughts, in the last millenium drought this buffering clearly was insufficient
  • the proposal continues the false perception that water going to the sea is 'lost' and can be used more productively.

Associate Professor Vervoort says that the suggestion of new dams in the green paper also seems in conflict with the investment in water use efficiency and water buy back in the Murray Darling Basin and a move away from the Howard era National Water Initiative (2004) and the National Plan for Water Security (2007), which can now be recognised as major steps forward in national water resource management.

He notes that the policy paper states that Australia should be delivering a high value agricultural product that is seen as "green, clean and safe".

Agreeing with that proposal he says Australia needs to accelerate its use of smart solutions to achieve this, including through:

  • better crop varieties
  • more efficient water application
  • smarter irrigation layouts
  • connecting nutrient and water management
  • better on-farm data collection and interpretation, and
  • more education and training

Associate Professor Vervoort's article can be read in full onThe Conversation.

Contact: Verity Leatherdale

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