Water used for export cotton dwarfs Cubbie entitlement: new study

Friends of the Earth media release. Thursday 20 September 2012

Twice as much water as Cubbie Station’s giant 460 gigalitre (GL) water entitlement is effectively sent overseas every year in the form of irrigated cotton from the Murray-Darling, according to new research released today by Friends of the Earth.

The analysis compiled Australian government data on annual cotton exports and irrigation water use from 2005 to 2011 and calculates the volume of water embodied in Australia’s export cotton crop.

The analysis found that in an average year, 940 GL of water is diverted from rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin to grow cotton which is exported overseas.

“The Coalition is bickering over whether Cubbie Station’s water entitlement should be in foreign hands, but the water will be sent overseas regardless,” said Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Campaigns Coordinator.

“Australians should be concerned about how much water the owners of Cubbie Station will be drawing from the river, not their nationality.”

“This report shows that every year we are sending about 940 billion litres of the Murray-Darling's water overseas in the form of cotton exports.

“Instead of endless debates about who owns our cotton farms we should be asking if it’s appropriate for them to send so much of our precious water overseas in the first place.

“Science clearly tells us that current extraction rates are unsustainable and will lead to widespread ecological collapse across the Murray Darling Basin (MDB).

“Cotton is a highly water intensive crop and the largest user of irrigation water in the MDB. Despite initiatives to reduce the water footprint of the sector, cotton production at this scale is unsustainable.

“We are putting our future at risk by producing large volumes of water intensive crops for export. The water used to produce these crops could instead be used for the environment, which is very much needed today in the MDB, and for less water intensive – and equally job rich – crops such as various vegetables, fruit and nuts.”

“Environmental allocations currently on the table in Basin Plan discussions will not be sufficient to sustain our inland river systems. This is a much more important debate than the ownership of Cubbie Station.”

The report, Cotton and Virtual Water in the Murray-Darling Basin, was written by Salima Rhemtulla for Friends of the Earth. It is available here.  

Further comment. Cam Walker 0419 338 047