Modelling scrutinised

By Country News

A former CSIRO research scientist has accused the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of compromising CSIRO’s scientific integrity, micromanaging its handling of an independent report and exerting influence to ‘‘rubber stamp’’ the MDBA’s own findings.

The claims, made by Dr Matthew Colloff in a submission to the South Australian royal commission into the basin plan, relate to the compiling of an MDBA-funded project to determine the ecological and economic benefits of environmental water in the basin, dubbed the Multiple Benefits project.

The basis of the MDBA’s modelling to develop the basin plan has come under intense scrutiny throughout the royal commission.

Dr Colloff, who led the team of 30 CSIRO scientists, said the group was tasked with estimating the ecological response for three scenarios of environmental water availability — 2800Gl, the current scenario and a scenario based on historical flows prior to the development and diversion of water resources.

He said it was the group’s preference to create models based on current water use and diversions of 3000Gl and 7600Gl.

The suggestion was rejected by the MDBA.

Later, towards the end of the project in December 2010, the MDBA asked the team to model outcomes for scenarios of 3200Gl, 2750Gl and 2400Gl.

Dr Colloff said they refused on the basis that the project had nearly finished and there was too little difference between the scenario volumes to be able to show ecological benefits on the scale of individual river valleys.

‘‘We were concerned that if we found no significant differences between 2750Gl and 2400Gl, then this finding could be used as justification for adoption of the lower volume,’’ he said.

‘‘What was clear to us is that they were constantly iterating down the environmental water requirement.’’

On completion of a draft of the final report, Dr Colloff said there was a request to remove a table outlining hydrological modelling.

He believed it was removed because it ‘‘didn’t compare favourably with their own modelling.’’

Dr Colloff said the whole experience resulted in a general feeling of ‘‘discontent’’ among CSIRO staff involved in the project.

‘‘I was unhappy with the extent of the MDBA’s interference throughout the course of the project. In particular, with the way that I felt our scientific integrity was being compromised and independence undermined ... We received an awful lot of direction about what to and not to include in the report.

‘‘We were being managed by senior CSIRO staff and MDBA in such a way that our job became effectively a rubber stamping of the MDBA’s findings.’’

A spokesperson for the MDBA said the authority had no further comment on the South Australian Royal Commission at this time.