Logging burns conceal industrial pollution in the name of ‘community safety’

 High intensity logging burns and the resulting smoke 
plume near Mount Baw Baw, April 2018 Photo Chris Taylor.Author provided

Earlier this year, Melbourne and large areas of Central Victoria, experienced days of smoke haze and poor air quality warnings as a result of planned burns. It’s a regular event occurring every autumn.

This smoke has been reported by both government and media outlets as largely the result of planned burns to reduce bushfire risk, along with agricultural burn-offs and increased use of wood heaters.

But this is only part of the story. A good proportion of the smoke this autumn has actually come from the intensive burning of debris left behind after clearfell logging. This is essentially industrial pollution.

Smoke Haze over Mooroolbark and Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday 1 May 2018, shortly after the time when the Poor Air Quality Index reached 901. Photo: Chris Taylor, Author provided

Industrial clearfell logging vs fuel reduction

To understand why clearfell logging burns are different compared with planned burns to reduce bushfire risk, we need to understand clearfell logging, which involves cutting most or all of the commercially valued trees in one single operation across a designated area (called a “coupe”).

Large volumes of forest biomass are left on the ground following clearfell logging in the Mount Disappointment State Forest with the Melbourne City Skyline in the background, August 2010. Photo. Chris Taylor., Author provided

In the process of clearfell logging, understorey vegetation is usually pushed over. Along with tree heads and branches left behind after logging, large volumes of debris – known as “slash” – are created. This is partially removed by applying a high intensity burn across the coupe, which in turn establishes an ash seed bed for the next crop of trees to be established. Generally, around 90-100% of the coupe is burnt.

In contrast, planned burns to reduce bushfire risk (otherwise referred to as fuel reduction burns) are less intense. They mostly target “fine fuels” (vegetation less than 6mm in diameter) on the forest floor and in the understorey, which may average around 15 tonnes per hectare (t/ha). Burn coverage is usually 50-70% of the site.

 Surface and understorey ‘fine fuels’ targeted in a recent low intensity burn near Mt Dandenong in April 2018. Photo: Chris Taylor, Author provided

Clearfell logging burns consume much larger volumes of vegetation biomass in the form of tree heads, branches, bark and downed understorey vegetation. According to a reportcompleted for the National Carbon Accounting System, clearfell logging burns consume, on average, 130 t/ha of slash in mixed-species forest and 140 t/ha of slash in Mountain Ash forests. This means that, while clearfell logging burns cover much less ground than fuel reduction burns, they burn far more biomass per hectare – generating far more smoke.

The list of planned burns on Forest Fire Management Victoria’s website showed that, at the beginning of May, 77 of the 119 burns either lit or planned to be lit across the Central Highlands of Victoria and surrounding areas were on logging coupes.

These burns were individually lit over a period of weeks, with some days predominantly logging burns, others fuel reduction burns. An example when logging burns were prominent occurred on April 20 this year, where 10 out of 12 planned burns were observed as occurring on logging coupes. Using a simple calculation based on average biomass consumption, fuel loads and burn coverage for logging and fuel reduction burns, we estimate that up to 99% of biomass burnt most likely occurred on logging coupes. The following day, the Environmental Protection Authority observed “poor” air quality at multiple air monitoring stations across Melbourne due to smoke.

MODIS Rapid Response Terra Satellite image taken 20 April 2018 showing the smoke intensity of the logging burns. NASA 2018

Even on days when the majority of burns lit were for fuel reduction, planned logging burns still contributed a proportion of biomass burned. For example, on April 30, only three out of 12 planned burns were observed as occurring on logging coupes, but they may have contributed to around one-third of the total biomass burned.

Likewise, on the following day, the Environmental Protection Authority observed “very poor” air quality across multiple air monitoring stations. While multiple planned burns contributed to this pollution event, we contend that logging burns increased the levels of pollution in addition to the smoke originating from fuel reduction burns.

MODIS Rapid Response Terra Satellite image taken 30 April 2018 showing the smoke intensity of the planned burns. NASA 2018

The key issue here is that not all “planned burns” are equivalent. Fuel reduction burns are intended to reduce the bushfire risk to lives and property. Indeed, work led by The Australian National University shows that regular fuel reduction burns can reduce risk to properties if carried out within close proximity.

In contrast, clearfell logging burns are part of an industrial process that extracts pulp logs and sawlogs for commercial sale to private enterprise. They play no part in reducing bushfire risk to life and property. Actually, the reverse is true: logging makes forests more prone to subsequent high-severity crown-consuming fires with associated risks to communities.

Given that a substantial proportion of the recent smoke over Melbourne and surrounding regional Victoria likely originated from logging burns, could that smoke be deemed industrial pollution? This is a valid question, given the serious health impacts associated with smoke pollution.

Logging burns would not be needed (and a substantial amount of associated smoke not generated) if the forest had not been logged in the first place. It is imperative that government departments inform the public about the smoke pollution coming from logging operations, whose purpose is for private commercial gain.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor – [Researcher, University of Melbourne]
 
Image of David LindenmayerDavid Lindenmayer – [Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University]

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

 

Why are ‘feminine’ crafts like basket weaving disparaged by politicians?

 Basket weaving is an important cultural and economic 
activity in many parts of the world, including Australia. 
IM Swedish Development Partner/Flickr

Basket weaving. It doesn’t sound much of an insult does it? But Education Minister Simon Birmingham appeared to use the term in this way in an interview following opposition leader Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech. Birmingham reacted disdainfully to Shorten’s commitment to fund fees for TAFE students, sneering at Labor’s “disastrous VET FEE-HELP program that subsidised everything from energy healing to basket weaving.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described this comment as an insult to TAFE teachers. Bowen is right, of course. But more than that, this insult derives its power from denigrating and trivialising crafts traditionally practised by women. By extension, it denigrates women themselves.

It calls to mind a similar jibe delivered by home affairs minister Peter Dutton during the gay marriage debate in March last year, when he told leading Australian company CEOs who urged government action on the issue to “stick to their knitting”. Three days later, Greens senator Janet Rice pulled out her knitting and worked on a rainbow-striped scarf during question time.

Janet Rice
 
 

Why is it that when dredging for an insult, male politicians turn to traditionally female crafts? It seems their gendered nature, pigeonholed as women’s hobbies – mundane and domestic, unpaid and undervalued – makes them suitable targets for ridicule. We don’t see such sneers at woodwork, metalcrafts or other “manly” pursuits.

Oppressive attitudes towards women have engendered such characterisations of their leisure pursuits. In 1986 feminist theory pioneer Sandra Harding wrote: “In virtually all cultures, whatever is thought of as manly is more highly valued than what is thought of as womanly”. More than 30 years on, the insults from Birmingham and Dutton illustrate that this view is as pertinent today.

Birmingham’s comment also marginalises and undermines the merits of the highly skilled craft of basket weaving, which has a rich history, including in Aboriginal culture. Created with extraordinary dexterity and patience, items that once served utilitarian purposes, such as carrying food or even babies, are today preserved as museum pieces.

Traditional Owner Patsy Raglar weaving at the inaugural A Taste of Kakadu food festival in the Northern Territory in 2017. PARKS AUSTRALIA

Such weaving “expresses cultural identity and traditions that date back tens of thousands of years”, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies says. Baskets carried by figures and ancestor spirits have been depicted in Arnhem Land rock art dating back more than 40,000 years.

Home to some of Australia’s finest fibre works, the Maningrida region’s Arts and Culture website notes: “There are also spiritual dimensions to weaving, which vary according to the materials used and the totemic significance of the object made.”

Curator Dr Kevin Murray, former artistic director of Craft Victoria, now an adjunct professor at RMIT University and editor of online craft publication Garland, reacted angrily to Birmingham’s insult. “Sure, basket weaving can thrive in Australia without TAFE support, but we need to address the way it is often demeaned as an art form by men in suits. What’s more meaningful: adding up figures in a spreadsheet or weaving objects for people to use that reflect a relation to the land and tradition?” he posted on the Craft in Australia Facebook page.

Two days later on that page, the World Crafts Council – Australia posted a notice of the National Basketry Gathering 2019 in South Australia with the comment, “Basket-makers stand proud!”

Craft meets politics with the Illawarra Knitting Nannas Against Gas. TONY MARKHAM

The inference attending the Birmingham insult is that basket weaving is a waste of money, while Dutton’s message is essentially that the CEOs should mind their own business and concentrate on what they know.

Many women are very familiar with the message of “don’t bother your pretty little head with that”. Yet crafts are increasingly recognised as appropriate subjects for scholarship. Finnish design scholar Maarit Makela has noted that “the making and the products of making are seen as an essential part of research”. They are “strongly connected with the source of knowledge. In this sense we are facing the idea of knowing through making.”

Also worth noting is that a significant body of research has confirmed what crafters have long known – that their crafts have mental health benefits. Craft has been found to enhance wellbeing – indeed some psychologists prescribe knitting for their patients.

Crafts also promote social connections, a counter to the loneliness and social isolation of contemporary life. Even trauma can be eased by participating in them, researchers have found. “The analysis revealed that feelings of agony or pain could be pushed away and turned into bodily activity or symbolic imagery by hand work,” writes Finnish researcher Professor Sinikka Pollanen.

Increasingly, craft practitioners are using their skills for other purposes than the purely decorative or utilitarian. They are actively protesting aspects of society – the Knitting Nannas who oppose coal seam gas exploration or yarn bombers enhancing desolate urban landscapes, for example. While some men are using craft to buck the gender stereotypes, for activist women it’s a means of drawing attention to and rebelling against the restrictions placed on them because of their gender. The message: craft matters; we matter.


This article was written by:
Image of Sue GreenSue Green – [Deputy Director, Journalism Program, Swinburne University of Technology]

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

 

DUCK OUT FOR A LIGHT BITE…

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    The words “light” and “duck” should not be in the same sentence when describing food; duck is fatty. But to borrow from incomparable TV cook Rick Stein, this duck congee (rice soup often unkindly named gruel or porridge) “is just so surprisingly refreshing”.  Not unlike myself it is way better than it looks. US$1.30 at locals’ eatery, Hoi An, Vietnam

     

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    TEA WITH THE DAMES

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      TEA WITH THE DAMES
      TEA WITH THE DAMES is a unique celebration of the lives and careers of four of our most iconic actresses; Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright and Dame Maggie Smith. All four have gone from being fledgling actresses in the 1950s to acting royalty. They’ve watched each other’s careers grow and bloom and have celebrated life’s ups and downs together. TEA WITH THE DAMES invites you to spend time with these acting legends as they talk about their lives and their professional experiences across theatre, television and film. Directed by Roger Michell (My Cousin Rachel, Notting Hill), the film also includes a range of astonishing archive material. Candid, funny, caustic, irreverent, poignant and utterly engrossing, this unmissable release is proof that there is truly nothing like a Dame.

      In cinemas June 7, 2018

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      THE BOOKSHOP

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        THE BOOKSHOP
        Based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name; The Bookshop is set in 1959, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a free-spirited widow, puts grief behind her and risks everything to open up a bookshop – the first such shop in the sleepy seaside town of Hardborough, England. Fighting damp, cold and considerable local apathy she struggles to establish herself but soon her fortunes change for the better.

        By exposing the narrow-minded local townsfolk to the best literature of the day including Nabokov’s scandalising Lolita and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, she opens their eyes thereby causing a cultural awakening in a town which has not changed for centuries.

        Her activities bring her a kindred spirit and ally in the figure of Mr. Brundish (Bill Nighy) who is himself sick of the town’s stale atmosphere. But this mini social revolution soon brings her fierce enemies: she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers and also crosses Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), Hardborough’s vengeful, embittered alpha female who is herself a wannabe doyenne of the local arts scene.

        When Florence refuses to bend to Gamart’s will, they begin a struggle not just for the bookshop but for the very heart and soul of the town.

        In cinemas May 24, 2018

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        Perth, Western Australia
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        The Great Moscow Circus

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          The Great Moscow Circus
          The legendary GREAT MOSCOW CIRCUS returns to Adelaide for the first time in five years with an all new Extreme show playing from 31 May until 8 July across three locations; Glenelg (Wigley Reserve) 31 May–10 June; Port Adelaide (Hart’s Mill) 14–24 June; and Elizabeth (Ridley Green Reserve) 28 June–8 July.

          The 2018 Adelaide season, part of a national tour which commenced in May 2017 features a line-up of 25 artists from Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.

          Highlights include the Extreme Wheel of Death, the motorcycle Cage Riders, breathtaking Hire Wire Walkers and Australia’s top trial BMX riders The Flair Riders. One of the youngest performers is 18 year old singer Taylah Harrington, a 5th generation circus performer with family in Weber’s Circus and The Stardust Circus. Taylah performed on The Voice (Australia) in 2017 and was on the Team Boy George. She joined The Great Moscow as a guest performer after completing her HSC in 2017.

          Promoter Mark Edgley says, ‘The Great Moscow Circus first visited Australia in 1965 and we have continued to bring it back to Australia every three to five years.

          The Great Moscow Circus is the most successful entertainment event that has ever visited this country. Since its first visit more than 7 million Australians have attended the show. It is truly an event that appeals to people of all ages. So far, audiences that have attended this current Extreme tour rate it as one of the most spectacular Great Moscow Circus productions ever’.

          NOTE: We have only ONE family pass on offer which is valid for two adults and two children. The total value of this family pass is $140

          Shows (Gold Membership)
          10/06/2018 4.00pm Australia/Adelaide | Admin Fee $0.00 | ALL TICKETS GONE!

          Wigley Reserve – Adelphi Tce
          Anzac Hwy,
          Glenelg North, South Australia
          5045
          Australia

          True Love Story at the Melbourne International Singers Festival

          The Melbourne International Singers Festival 2018 is thrilled to presented the internationally acclaimed, award winning The Song Company, with Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, at MISF for the first time, in “True Love Story” on Friday 8 June at Deakin Edge.

          An Autobiographical mediaeval French Romance in a time of War and Plague as told by Poet and Composer Guillaume De Machaut. Against the backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death this “true” love story from the Middle Ages charts the passionate affair between the 14th century’s most celebrated poet and composer, Guillaume de Machaut, and his super-fan, a beautiful noblewoman called Péronnelle d’Armentières. Their poetry, their letters, and Machaut’s extraordinary music combine to produce a unique semi-staged multi-sensory experience.

          The Song Company is Australia’s Premier Vocal Ensemble. Since the dawn of history, the human voice and the act of singing have been intrinsically linked with storytelling and the acquisition of culture. The Song Company belongs to a land whose first peoples used songlines and vocal music to pass knowledge and culture from generation to generation, and is proud to continue that tradition, in a unique way, sharing music from across western and non-western art traditions. From its beginnings in 1984 the ensemble’s schedule has grown to include a mix of national and international touring, a subscription series in cities across Australia, recording and broadcast projects, education activities, and special collaborative projects.

          Participants in the Melbourne International Singers Festival will receive FREE ENTRY to this Recital and ALSO have the chance to workshop with The Song Company on Friday June 8!

          To register for the Festival OR to find out all about our exciting full Festival program please go to http://schoolofhardknocks.org.au

          Now in its 9th consecutive year, Melbourne International Singers Festival will be led by Guest Conductor RICHARD GILL AO and Australia’s finest conductors, musicians and singers including: The Song Company, Choir of Hard Knocks, MEN ALOUD!, XL Arts, Warren Wills, Claire Patti and Dr Jonathon Welch AM. BE CHALLENGED, INSPIRED & ENTERTAINED! An unforgettable weekend at #MISF18

          Tickets for True Love Story can be booked at http://song.company/true-love-story
          (Adult $65 / Concession $60 / Under 30 $40)

          WIN TICKETS TO GET YOUR ROCK ON!

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            WIN TICKETS TO GET YOUR ROCK ON!1 of 5 Double Passes to be won!


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            Nikki Nicholls Ritual of Rock Vol 1

            Satellite Lounge would like to offer you the chance to WIN a Double Seated Pass to a ‘rock’ show of your choice! 

            Just purchase 1 or more tickets to see NIKKI NICHOLLS ‘RITUAL OF ROCK VOL 1’ on SAT 26th MAY and be automatically placed in the draw to WIN 1 of 5 Double passes! The best part is that you get to choose which show you would like to attend! (See below for the choice of shows on offer)

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            Disturbing The PeaceA Salute to Vanda & Young and Alberts Productions
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            Absolutely Live
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            Marc Hunter ‘Communication’ 20th Anniversary
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            Leave Your Hat On
            – Songs of Joe Cocker

            SAT 21st JULY
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            Nick Barker

            Nick Barker & The Monkey Men play The Rolling Stones
            SAT 16 JUNE
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            Raw Brit

            Raw Brit
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            INXSive

            INXSive
            FRI 20th JULY
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            Grattan on Friday: Fixing citizenship imbroglio is not just a matter of better paperwork

             According to the committee more than half of 
            all Australians would have to reorder some aspect of their affairs 
            if they wanted to nominate for parliament. 

            The government would have us believe there’s really no fundamental difficulty with the citizenship provision in the constitution, which has cut a swathe through the federal parliament. It is just a matter of not being careless.

            Unwilling to confront the genuine and ongoing problems now the dual citizen genie is out of the bottle, the government says candidates for parliament simply need to get their paperwork in order.

            But a report from the joint standing committee on electoral matters, released on Thursday, presents a compelling case for going back to taws on section 44, which covers not just citizenship but also people having conflicts of interest and offices of profit under the crown.

            Staggeringly, according to the committee more than half of all Australians would have to reorder some aspect of their affairs if they wanted to nominate for parliament – and some might never be able to overcome the barriers. The title of the report is “Excluded”.

            The only way of making things more workable, the bipartisan inquiry concluded, is by overhauling the section via a referendum.

            The government, however, has made it clear it hasn’t any stomach to go down the referendum path. While sources claim it is not necessarily ruling it out for ever, that’s the distinct message coming from the public words.

            If the committee, chaired by Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, had recommended a referendum before or at the coming election, the government’s position might be reasonable. The challenge would be too big; its political capital too small.

            The committee, however, has accepted a longer timetable is needed.

            Section 44 disqualifies dual citizens from sitting in parliament. The High Court’s black letter law interpretation, which also applies to other parts of the section, is that a person must not be a dual citizen at the time of nomination.

            The section “allows the laws of other countries to create dual citizenships without the knowledge or consent of Australian citizens,” the committee found. It “creates an ongoing cloud of uncertainty over those who have parents, grandparents or spouses born overseas. This cloud also covers those who do not have documentation about their family, including Indigenous Australians”.

            One of the cameos given in the report is fictionalised as “Christine” but obviously based on Labor Indigenous senator Pat Dodson. It raises the issue of someone whose mother was part of the stolen generations, without family records, but whose grandfather was rumoured to have been Irish. The senator “Christine” has no disqualification she knows of but remains in “jeopardy that the identity of her grandfather will be discovered”.

            The report – unanimous except for one dissenting Liberal – said the evidence suggested “only those with documented generations of wholly Australian forebears can be completely assured of their citizenship status for the duration of their parliamentary term. This creates two classes of Australian citizens for the purposes of engaging in representative democracy.”

            Under the committee’s proposal, the referendum would be either to scrap section 44 or have added to it “until the parliament otherwise provides”.

            It says that if the referendum passed, the government should engage with the community to determine “contemporary expectations” about suitable qualifications, in relation to citizenship and other matters (such as whether someone holding an office of profit under the crown should have to quit before nominating, as at present, or when elected).

            The committee hasn’t taken a view on whether the present requirement for a parliamentary aspirant to be an Australian-only citizen should remain, or dual citizenship should be acceptable.

            There are arguments on both sides: the instinctive attraction to feeling an MP should have renounced claims to any other citizenship, versus the feeling that in a multicultural country this might be too rigid a position.

            Fairfax’s Latika Bourke reported British Conservative MP and co-chair of the ANZAC parliamentary friendship group Andrew Rosindell describing in particular the ban on dual Australian-British citizens as absurd. She also pointed to Catherine West, an Australian who is a British Labour MP.

            While whether MPs should be allowed to be dual citizens would be a debate worth having, one can also understand a government not wanting to have it. It could be fraught and divisive.

            Responding to the committee’s report Turnbull said that “what people have to do is simply get their act together.

            “Australians expect politicians to set a high standard and they look to us and they say, ‘we have to fill in our forms’, whether it is for tax, or Centrelink, or childcare … ‘We have to get all the details and information together. So should you, people who want to be members of parliament’”.

            No doubt many people, highly cynical about politicians, would say just that. But Turnbull knows he is resorting to a populist argument, rather than a soundly-based one. As a lawyer he’d be fully aware, as the report emphasizes, that the citizenship matter is more complex.

            This is shown, for example, by the situation of Labor MP Anne Aly. She has produced a letter from the Egyptian embassy saying she is not an Egyptian citizen, but that hasn’t stopped doubts being canvassed. In response, Labor defaults to questions around Liberal MPs Julia Banks and Jason Falinski. The point is, while in the case of some people and countries, determining and renouncing foreign citizenship is relatively straight-forward, in other instances it can be anything but.

            The government plans to implement measures, drawing on the report, to make it less likely people will fall foul of the citizenship trap, such as requiring candidates to publicly disclose their family citizenship history when they nominate.

            Although the committee has suggested interim steps, it doesn’t regard them as an adequate permanent fix.

            The committee was adamantly against giving the Australian Electoral Commission a role in vetting candidates. “For legislative, practical, and reputational reasons this is a dangerous and unworkable suggestion,” it said. “Most crucially, having the AEC both conduct elections and adjudicate on candidate disqualification would seriously corrupt the probity of Australia’s democracy”.

            The citizenship provision has claimed 15 members of this parliament, of whom two (Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander) have been re-elected and another four (Justine Keay, Susan Lamb, Rebekha Sharkie, and Josh Wilson) are seeking re-election in the coming byelections.

            Ahead, the choice is between a patch-up or a proper solution. The patch up is inevitable in the short term but is a cop-out as a long-term answer.

            When it comes to updating the constitution, the task seems beyond this country. Recommendations for various changes from conventions and inquiries over many years have come to nothing. Only eight referendums (including changes to the federal parliament’s powers) have been carried since federation, the last in 1977.

            For all the talk, the prospect of a referendum on Indigenous recognition, which only a few years ago seemed likely relatively soon, has once again slipped away.

            Our politicians, and we the Australian people, are stuck like glue to aspects of our constitution that have become unfit for purpose.


            This article was written by:
            Michelle Gratton – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]

             

             

             

            This article is part of a syndicated news program via
            

            What happens to small towns whose water becomes big business for bottled brands?

             The more the market is willing to pay, the harder it is 
            to regulate water use. Shutterstock.com

            Groundwater being pumped from a highland aquifer, only to be whisked away in tankers and sold in little plastic bottles by a multinational corporation – it’s a difficult concept for a small farming town to swallow.

            Just ask the residents of Stanley, Victoria, whose four-year court battle to stop a farmer bottling local groundwater for Japanese beverage giant Asahi ended in failure last month. They were left with a A$90,000 bill for legal costs.

            Locals have clashed with the bottled water industry in many parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, and perhaps most famously in the French spa town of Vittel, where residents have accused Nestlé of selling so much of their water to the rest of the world that they barely have enough left for themselves.

            These conflicts demonstrate the challenge of balancing the competing demands on water drawn from underground. Compared with surface water, which is less tricky to monitor, groundwater is far harder to govern.

            Under the Australian Constitution, water is primarily governed by the states. In Victoria, groundwater in high-use areas is managed using groundwater management plans under the Water Act, and water for commercial or irrigation purposes requires a take and use licence. This licence specifies the maximum volume of water a user is allowed to divert each year and under what conditions – what is often called an ‘entitlement’.

            If a licence-holder wants to amend their licence, they need to apply to their regional water corporation.

            It was one such application that triggered the dispute in Stanley. Local farmer Tim Carey applied to change the source of 19 million litres of his existing licence from surface water to groundwater, and from agricultural to commercial purposes. This would allow him to truck the water to a bottling plant run by Mountain H2O, owned by Asahi.

            The changes were approved by Goulburn-Murray Water under the local water management plan. Stanley’s residents were concerned about the impact on irrigation and the environment, and tried to challenge Carey’s operation under local planning laws. But the court said that his approved water licence meant he didn’t need planning approval too. With no clear legal options now left for local residents, that may well prove to be the final say on the matter.

            How did this happen?

            Unfortunately, before about 1980, water entitlements were given away like kittens by various water agencies. As a result, in some areas, users are entitled to much more water than they actually use – sometimes more than is sustainable. And politics generally precludes any intervention to amend these inflated entitlements once the licence-holders have become used to having them.

            Extensive droughts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, combined with the Darling River’s striking algal bloom in the early 1990s, catapulted the importance of effective water management into the public consciousness.

            In 1997, this resulted in “the cap” – limits on surface water diversions in the Murray-Darling Basin. However, the cap didn’t limit groundwater extractions, which then increased dramatically. The regulation of groundwater, memorably described in an 1861 court case as too “secret, occult and concealed” to even attempt, has long lagged behind that of surface water.

            It wasn’t until the Millennium Drought (2000-09), with the advent of the National Water Initiative and the federal Water Act 2007 that Australian groundwater management underwent significant, large-scale reform. The main thrusts of the reforms were the development of legal and planning frameworks to achieve sustainable management of surface and groundwater, and the restructuring of water markets to be nationally compatible.

            The new water governance regime created under the federal Water Act, under which the Commonwealth assumed important powers over waters in the Murray-Darling Basin, allows for groundwater markets and new limits on groundwater withdrawals. Groundwater trading is generally constrained by rules that require the “to” and “from” locations to be hydrologically connected to one another.

            Stanley’s groundwater falls within a new mega-planning area that covers great swathes of northern Victoria. The new management plan for this area is due at the end of the year, but is currently only 30% complete.

            Even if the plan is finished on time, groundwater sustainability in regions like the Ovens might elude us. Limits on water extraction are generally based on the entitlements in the area. But as current groundwater usage is less than those entitlements, “sleeper” licences can still be activated. During shortages, when the economic value of water peaks, people can trade water that would otherwise remain unused. In some management regions, the total entitlement volume is roughly double or more than the actual usage.

            The Stanley case shows how communities can mobilise when groundwater moves from one use to another. If new plans further encourage groundwater markets, we should brace ourselves for more of the same – although it is unclear whether other communities would enjoy any more legal success than the people of Stanley.

            What are management decisions based on?

            High-profile cases like Stanley’s highlight the need for a robust scientific basis for licensing decisions. Communities facing change will have a difficult time accepting decisions that are not supported by rigorous science.

            Unfortunately when it comes to groundwater, it’s far from straightforward to work out how much water is down there and where it goes. An expert hydrogeologist retained by Stanley’s residents argued that the modelling used to estimate the impact of the bottled water extractions was very simplistic. Mapping groundwater with an overly simplistic model is akin to using an identikit sketch of a smiley face to catch a criminal.

            But water corporations have finite resources, and if we want in-depth analysis, then we need to invest in management planning tools such as drilling programs and numerical groundwater models supported by monitoring data and surveys of groundwater-dependent ecosystems. This sort of analysis is time-consuming, expensive and currently a political stretch. Governments only tend to spend serious money on groundwater investigations once people start running out of water.

            However, if we want to get groundwater licensing right, it needs to be scientifically robust, environmentally sustainable, and procedurally fair.

            As Stanley’s residents discovered, there might be no second chance.


            This article was co-authored by:

            Image of Emma Kathryn White

            Emma Kathryn White – [PhD Candidate, Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne]

            and

            Image of Rebecca Louise NelsonRebecca Louise Nelson – [Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Melbourne]

             

             

             

            This article is part of a syndicated news program via