Environment groups have applauded the Victorian River Red Gum Rescue package but have criticised NSW for failing to join the fight to help revive dying gums.
The package, announced today by Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell and Victorian Minister for Water John Thwaites, will give Victoria’s thirsty Murray red gums a desperately needed drink, the groups said.
“This rescue package will breathe some life back into severely stressed red gum wetlands along the Victorian banks of the Murray and we’re delighted,” said Dr Arlene Buchan of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“It goes to show that where there’s a will there’s a way, and Victoria and the Commonwealth are really showing the way forward with this river red gum rescue package,” said Nick Roberts of the Victorian National Parks Association.
“Tragically for the red gums on the other side of the river, NSW will use all its share of the floods for irrigation and none will be used to improve the prospects of the dying red gums there,” he continued.
The Federal, Victorian, New South Wales and South Australian Governments declared River Red Gum forests national “icon sites” in 2003 as part of the Living Murray Initiative, promising to return 500 billion litres of water to the Murray, to save these forests and wetlands. A recent report shows 75% of the River Murray’s red gums are highly stressed, mostly due to over-extraction of water for irrigation and drought.
The Victorian Government has put together an innovative package that will take advantage of natural floods coming down the Ovens and Goulburn Rivers and pump the water onto parched red gum wetlands at sites including Hattah, Mulcra, Lindsay and Walpolla Islands.
The Commonwealth is providing half the $970,000 needed to fund the pumping. Water for the rescue package has also been sourced from Victoria’s small Kerang Lakes Environmental Water Allocation.
“Today shows that cooperation between State and Commonwealth Governments can deliver real water to the Murray’s floodplain. But we still need NSW to get its act together and take action to protect its River Red Gum forests” said Dr Paul Sinclair, Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign Director.
The Victorian Red Gum Rescue Package follows a historic decision by the South Australian government to end sheep grazing in Chowilla Floodplain, another one of six iconic sites in the Living Murray Initiative along with sites including Barmah-Millewa and Gunbower-Perricoota Forests in Victoria and NSW.
“NSW is dragging the chain on the whole Living Murray Initiative and has a lot of catching up to do before the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting on 30 September if it’s to save face in front of other River Murray states and the Commonwealth” said Dr Buchan.