Lake Eyre Basin Rivers 232 Darling Basin. In 2014, the Liberal National Party (2012–15) changed the water legislation to allow the sleeper licences in the Cooper Creek plan area in Queensland to be traded up the river, with adjustments depending on potential impacts (see Chapter 20). Unallocated water in the Diamantina catchment could also be developed for irrigation. A current barrier to development is the prohibition of any large dams (off-river or on-farm storages) adjacent to the river, as well as limits on pump size and daily pumping volume (see Chapter 20). This means that water cannot be pumped from the main river channel (or flooded areas) into large off-river storages (e.g. Murray–Darling Basin Kingsford 2004). Any relaxation of this policy could trigger large-scale water resource development, particularly now that irrigation licences can be traded. Circuitously, this development potential returns the debate to the fundamental question: how much is too much development of the rivers or, as canvassed by the Queensland Liberal National Party Government (2012–15), small-scale v large-scale development? The implicit assumption is that small-scale development will have relatively minor ecological or socio- economic consequences. This assumption is flawed on two counts. First, many small-scale developments combined can have the same impact as a large-scale development in terms of the amount of water diverted from the river. Second, it is clear that small to medium floods are as critical to the ecological resilience of the rivers as large, episodic floods (Hamilton et al. 2005 Bunn et al. 2006). Minor river flows ensure that waterholes – the key refuges for many dependent animals – remain viable and carry through to the next flood period (see Chapters 4 and 5). Diversion of even small amounts of this water for small-scale irrigation could have dire ecological consequences, including causing death of fish and turtle populations in waterholes. The sensitivity of waterholes to minor hydrological changes will also be exacerbated by climate change, in particular by the projected higher temperatures and associated evaporation rates (Reisinger et al. 2014). In addition, floodplain developments can change the course of distributary creek networks and the hydraulics of flow over the floodplain (Fig. 22.2), with potentially serious ecological and socio-economic consequences. Changes to flows in the myriad channels that criss-cross the floodplains may be caused by roads, farming or mining exploration and development. Up to now, the oil and petroleum industry has existed in reasonable harmony with the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin (although there are examples on the Cooper Creek floodplain where roads or levees severed the floodplain from its water supply). Although there is an increased understanding and sensitivity to this potential problem, intensification of oil and gas mining on the floodplains of Cooper Creek is clearly possible, with gas wells on platforms serviced by road networks (e.g. Chinchilla, Queensland), potentially affecting flow paths (see Chapter 19). Also, wherever there is mining exploration and development, pollution of rivers remains a potential lethal threat. The graphic example of the Lady Annie copper mine spillage in 2009, and the subsequent acidification and heavy metal pollution of the Buckley River (headwaters of the Lake Eyre Basin) remains a potent reminder (see Chapter 19). If the coal seam gas industry establishes in the Lake Eyre Basin, polluted water generated as a by- product of gas extraction may also pose a serious threat to the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin (see Chapter 19).
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