Victoria’s leading environment groups are alarmed and disappointed that Premier Brumby has dismissed a draft recommendation by its own independent advisory body to return environmental flows to the Murray River.
Answering a question in Kerang last Wednesday, Mr Brumby “emphatically rejected’’ a draft recommendation from the Victorian Environment Assessment Council (VEAC) to return 4000 gigalitres of water to the Murray River once every five years (800GL a year).
VEAC, an independent science-based government advisory board, released the draft recommendations earlier this year as part of its investigation into the protection of River Red Gum forests in the north of the State. VEAC is currently taking public submissions on its recommendations and will present its final report to the government in February.
“It is disappointing and alarming that the Premier would pre-empt his own independent panel on the crucial issue of saving the Murray and its wetlands,’’ Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) executive director Matt Ruchel said.
“The recommendations are based on extensive consultation and science based evidence. Now is not the time for knee jerk responses.
“To make an announcement on the run like this is a slap in the face to the thousands of people who have given their time to consider the recommendations and make submissions. It makes a mockery of the whole process.’’
River Red Gum forests are stressed due to lack of water, continued grazing and logging. The VEAC report states: “The Murray darling river systems are under extreme stress during dry period and drought, but if flows are not restored to forest and wetland systems, they will suffer irreparable damage and will be permanently lost for future generations.’’
Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said that if Victoria’s River Red Gums are to survive they need to be given their fair share of water.
“Most of this 4000GL is water that’s already been recovered for the environment through commitments such as the Living Murray program,’’ Ms O’Shanassy said. “VEAC recommends recovering an average of 800GL per year, with a release every five years.
“There is currently 700GL per year either recovered, or in the process of being recovered. In reality, there is around 3500GL of the 4000GL in the pipeline. Another 100GL a year is not that difficult to achieve over time.
“Obviously there is little water for either the environment or irrigators at the moment due to the dry conditions but that does not mean we have to be at odds. Smartly managed water can meet everyone’s needs. There needs to be long term commitments to recovering water for rivers, not just decisions based on a short term outlook.’’