The Victorian Water Act was first written in 1886, to facilitate the development of irrigated agriculture in northern Victoria.
But a lot’s changed since then.
Climate change projections predict a much drier future. Irrigators are looking at new and more efficient ways of farming. We’ve got some fabulous new River Red Gum parks that must be given a drink. And our rivers need rescuing.
In the face of dry conditions and low inflows, all water users have had to change the way we use water. But the environment’s taken the hardest hit, with only one per cent of all water delivered in 2007/8 (latest publicly available figures) being delivered to the environment.
Changes to the Act can help turn this around.
We think The Act needs at least two fundamental reforms, and a series of supporting reforms. These will improve the Act’s application and operation to provide greater security and reliability for environmental water.
At the moment, the Act only requires the Minister for Water to maintain the Environmental Water Reserve – not to ensure it actually has enough water in it of good quality and reliability to properly do its job of maintaining and protecting environmental values!
We’ve also had a look at establishing a ‘sustianable baseflow’ for Victorian rivers. This would be a legally bound share of water set aside first, before consumptive entitlements are met.
And on the matter of the persistent qualification (re-direction) of environmental water, we think that The Act’s temporary qualification provision should be immediately amended to prioritise critical human and environmental needs over all other users. This way, our rivers won’t be giving up yet more and more of their water while they run thirsty.