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Science ‘myth’ in basin plan

by
December 07, 2016

A leading Australian river scientist has described comments from the Australian Conservation Foundation as ‘‘misleading and manipulative’’.

An environmental flows specialist and visiting researcher based at UNESCO-IHE in the Netherlands, John Conallin wants a more mature debate about achieving the right balance between water for environmental and productive use in Australia.

He was particularly concerned with a statement from the ACF’s health ecosystems manager Jonathan La Nauze, who said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s legislated mandate was to set at scientifically determined sustainable levels the amount of water that is permitted to be taken out of rivers for irrigation.

Dr Conallin said this whole notion was ridiculous.

‘‘We use best-available science and modelling to determine the flow targets for ecological outcomes,’’ Dr Conallin said.

‘‘Therefore they are not facts, we are hypothesising (a scientific best guess) the amount of take needed for the environment and as such they are assumptions, not facts, not scientific knowns.’’

Dr Conallin said science was being touted around as a decision instead of information to inform decision-making.

‘‘Figures are supposed to be adjusted as new information comes in, and that’s called adaptive management.’’

Dr Conallin said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was not an ecological plan, it was a triple-bottom-line plan, meaning it worked towards social-ecological acceptable outcomes.

‘‘The best available science at present is highlighting that social impacts are significant and that significant third party impacts do occur under the relaxed constraints scenarios, as we learned through the latest flood events.

‘‘So you look to adjust. That’s using best-available science; that’s adaptive management.’’

He said this obsession with modelled flow targets and water as the solution to the health of the system was not scientifically justified.

‘‘If you want to build resilience into a system you need to take a multiple action approach, and that means other priority measures need to coincide with water, as has occurred in the past.

‘‘The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder David Papps and his team have it right when they say they are trying to meet ecological targets not flow targets.’’

Dr Conallin suggested a pragmatic way forward would be to use the water we have now to our best knowledge, increase complementary measures, test the assumptions, continue to adaptively manage, and use good science to inform on the direction and if we are meeting the intended outcomes.

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