Blog | 17th Jan, 2011

Is for the long-term benefit of communities and our environment alike

In the midst of flooding across much of the east of the continent, and the commencement of hearings in the Windsor-chaired Murray-Darling Inquiry, some irrigators have come out saying a “preoccupation” with returning water to the environment is misplaced.

Right now, with one in a hundred year flooding events, and with the state’s arguably most parched river, the Wimmera, in flood, that claim may at first glance, appear true. Even after the impacts of the decade long “drought”.

But really, the current “preoccupation” with returning water to the environment is about more than the current downpours. Calling for water to be returned to the Basin’s environment is about more than the next water year, and, in fact, about more than the next state or Federal election.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is our chance to put in place some measures and mechanisms to plan for the future. It’s the best opportunity we have to plan for the long-term health of our greatest river system, the long-term prosperity of the communities that live and farm in these regions, and for the benefits this ecosystem provides all Australians, now and into the future.

In the long-term, there will be more dry periods. We can all agree on that much.

So why not work out how we can put aside a fair share of water for our rivers? Work it out now, while there is plenty of water around, so that the next time we experience ‘drought’, we have a plan. So that next time rivers stop flowing, or fish float downstream belly-up due to preventable blackwater events; or when irrigation communities are pushed to crisis points (and show crisis responses), because the ecosystems that underpin their businesses are at the point of collapse – we have a plan to share, fairly, what water there is available to us and to our environment.

We all need a Basin Plan that is robust enough to describe how socio-economic adjustments and benefits eventuate when new sustainable diversion limits are set, and met. The Basin Plan must have details about how communities are to be supported to flourish and prosper with less water on farms, but more water – enough water – in rivers.

Today, the House of Reps Standing Committee Inquiry into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan commenced hearings, and heard from some South Australian stakeholders. On Friday it’ll be our turn to share our viewpoints.

Whether this Committee and its Inquiry manages to look beyond the limitations of the Guide to the Plan, remains to be seen. And I’m not talking only about those socio-economic limitations. We’ve heard about those, and they are real and must be challenged and solved. But there are more omissions in the Guide, exclusions that relate directly to restoring the Basin to health.

Not enough has yet been made of the real costs of continuing business-as-usual.

Will this Inquiry call for the inclusion of accurate climate science, so that the full ramifications, indeed the costs and benefits, of not returning between 4,000 and 7,600GL of water to the Basin, are understood?
Will this Inquiry make some recommendations about how these costs, and more importantly, these benefits can be effectively communicated to Basin communities and other Australians?

If this is done, and followed up, then perhaps the current “preoccupation” with returning water to the environment will be seen for what it is: as a long-term investment, with real returns and benefits for Basin communities and the environment alike.