News | 19th Jan, 2011

Scientists reject plan to save Murray-Darling

Thursday, 19 January 2011
Tom Arup, The Age

A group of Australia's leading scientists have rejected the proposed plan to save the Murray-Darling, saying basic information needed to have confidence it will deliver a healthy river is missing.

In a statement released yesterday, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has also accused the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of developing a set of river reforms that ''manipulates science in an attempt to engineer a pre-determined political outcome''.

Read more about the draft Basin Plan here

The draft basin plan, released last year, proposes returning 2750 billion litres of water a year to the environment by 2019, less than the 3000 to 4000 billion litres the authority said was needed in a 2010 blueprint.

Farmers have acted angrily to the proposed water cuts – which will be made through voluntary entitlement buy backs and infrastructure upgrades – saying they will hurt rural communities.

In its 25-page response to the proposed plan the Wentworth Group – whose members include prominent scientists such as Tim Flannery and David Karoly – called on the Parliament to reject the plan.

''This is bad policy built on a flawed, 19th century world view, that environmental reform can only be achieved at the expense of the economy,'' the statement said.

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The Wentworth Group said missing information meant the community, science and the Parliament could not make an informed decision on whether the plan has ''any prospect of delivering a healthy working river.''
Wentworth said while the plan proposed a volume of water to be returned to the river, there was no data on the amount of water actually needed to ensure the river's health.

They also said the plan makes no allowance for the future impacts of climate change and does not incorporate modelling on the impacts on rivers from the proposal to allow an extra 2600 billion litres of water to be taken from complex underground aquifers.

The group said the Commonwealth should now stop the basin plan process and ask the authority to withdraw its work so it can take the time needed to include missing information.

''The draft plan's failings are of such significance that iterative changes will not lead to a good plan,'' they said.
The director of the Wentworth Group, Peter Cosier, said it would be a ''scandal of generational proportion'' if the $9 billion water buy back and infrastructure program to recover water for the river failed to ensure its health.

Last year, Wentworth Group members walked away from an authority advisory panel and called for an independent scientific review when it learnt smaller water cuts would be put forward than recommended in 2010.

The authority chairman, Craig Knowles, last night said "the views of the Wentworth Group are well-known. As with other groups with diametrically opposed opinions on the draft, all views will be considered as part of the consultation period".

The Friends of the Earth Murray-Darling campaigner, Jonathan La Nauze, said the Wentworth Group had confirmed the environmental group's view that ''the only thing that's clear in all of the authority's Basin Plan documentation is that 2750 billion litres is not enough water to safeguard the river''.

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