Book Review: Dead in the Water – Richard Beasley

Dead in The Water: A Very Angry Book About Our Greatest Environmental Catastrophe … The Death of The Murray-Darling Basin, Richard Beasley

Reviewed by David Stead, NPA Book Club

This is the story of the demise of Australia’s largest water catchment system, the Murray Darling-Basin. It covers one seventh of Australia’s landmass, Australia’s two largest rivers and is about three times the size of Germany. At the heart of the story is the need to return to the water system, environmentally sustainable water levels, by clawing back over-allocation of water for agricultural and commercial uses.

The how and why will shock readers.  The current government catch cry of ‘making decisions based on the best scientific advice’ has no place in Murray Darling decision-making as described by Richard Beasley, particularly with respect to the volume of water required to comply with legislation and enable to environmentally sustainable water levels.

Richard is a former Senior Counsel Assisting at the Murray-Darling Royal Commission. He relies on Royal Commission submissions, evidence and proceedings to support many of his statements. Richard provides a quick sketch of the Basin’s history, since colonisation and current uses, before getting into the detail on implementation of the Water Act (2007) and various failed government approaches to preserve the environmental integrity of the Basin. The story is well laid out and written for the average person (not in legalese) although some found there was a bit of repetition and a few too many references to what happens later (or earlier) in the book.

Some will find the message is delivered with a sense of humour that will have you laughing, not about the topic but by the way Richard draws the reader into the story. One example; ‘my publisher has put every competent defamation barrister on retainer … anyone who feels aggrieved … [is] left with the morons’. Richard then goes on to bluntly call out what he terms fact-based negligence, illegality or maladministration by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, governments, some politicians and others.