Environment Victoria and the Australian Conservation Foundation condemned the Victorian Government’s decision to abandon emergency pumping of water to thousands of dying Murray River red gums in Hattah National Park.
“Hattah Lakes is a wetland system of international importance. It is at risk of being destroyed because of a drought made worse by climate change and unsustainable irrigation water use. It has a right to water just like irrigators”, said Dr Paul Sinclair, Director of Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign.
Water was being pumped onto Hattah is part of a legal allocation of water made to the Murray River environment in 1987. This legal entitlement is subject to the same allocation rules as irrigation entitlements.
Irrigators along the Murray currently still have 95% of their permanent water right. 14 000 megalitres had been scheduled to be pumped into Hattah Lakes. In 2004/5 irrigators in northern Victoria extracted 2 925 000 megalitres from the Murray River System.
Hattah Lakes has been listed as an “icon site” and is part of the $500 million Living Murray Initiative established by Victorian, New South Wales, South Australian, ACT and Commonwealth Governments to restore the Murray River.
River red gum forests in Hattah are under extreme stress. Many trees are hundreds of years old. In July 2006 the Murray Darling Basin Commission found that 75% of all trees surveyed in the lower Murray were “stressed”, “near dead”, or “dead”. Without intervention such as the pumping water into threatened areas “significant further numbers of trees will die or become severely stressed over coming months and years”.
“Some parts of Hattah have not had water for nearly a decade. The water crisis won’t be solved by destroying Hattah Lakes. The water being provided to the red gum forests is emergency life support for a place we hold in trust for future generations of Australians”, said Matt Ruchel, Manager Land and Water at ACF.
“Hattah Lakes is a place loved by generations of Victorians – over 70 000 people visit each year. When we kill Hattah it’s going to be dead for a long time. It makes no sense to liquidate our natural assets – they’re impossible to replace”, said Mr Ruchel.