The Victorian government has made commitments to set aside water for environmental flows to improve the health of our river systems. Environment Victoria decided to take a look at how these commitments have been honoured by commissioning a report on the delivery of environmental flows.
The report An Audit of Seven Environmental Bulk Entitlements – Recommended, Planned, and Actual Release of Environmental Water to Victoria’s Stressed Rivers shows the gaps between scientific recommendations for environmental flows and legislated commitments, and between commitments and actual delivery.
For each of the seven rivers where an assessment was possible, there were big gaps between the amount of water that scientists recommend is the minimum needed to maintain river health and what rivers actually receive. Information was hard to come by and the report found that a lack of openness, clarity, proper monitoring and public access to information made it impossible to determine where exactly the water was going. Most of the specific environmental entitlements have been qualified by the Minister for Water, so that water intended for environmental purposes has been reallocated to other uses, particularly urban water supply, without any compensation.
The report points out that as water availability declines due to climate change, the environment is more heavily impacted than other users due to the rules for water sharing between different users. As rivers become increasingly stressed, it is more and more important that rivers actually get the water that is promised to them to prevent a further decline in their condition.
“The Yarra and Thomson Rivers have been promised environmental flows, but they have never been delivered,” said Healthy Rivers campaigner Juliet Le Feuvre,”the water has been used to supply Melbourne instead.”
“The current algal bloom in the Murray highlights what can happen when there are not enough environmental releases to flush the system.”