The day began in the formal surrounds of the Bendigo Town Hall. Environment Victoria presented evidence to the Windsor inquiry into the socio-economic impacts of the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDB). This all party committee of federal MPs, chaired by independent Tony Windsor, is travelling round the Basin hearing from interest groups and individuals what they think the impacts of the Basin Plan will be. We talked about the social and economic costs of continuing ‘business as usual’ and the benefits and opportunities a healthy Basin will bring, and described a decision making framework for determining which areas will remain in irrigation. We also stressed the importance of using science to determine the water needs of the Basin. The MPs quizzed us on ecosystem services, climate change, bird populations and our view of the many dams and weirs across the MDB.
Our presentation was followed by evidence from Australian Conservation Foundation, the Environment Defenders Office, Goulburn Valley Environment Group and the Environmental Farmers Network. In different ways, we all stressed the same points – that the communities of the MDB rely on a healthy ecosystem for their long term future, that the benefits of a healthy ecosystem have been undervalued, and that for the Basin Plan to be successful in returning water to the environment, a whole of government approach is needed to support communities through change and transition.
Never one to waste the opportunity of a trip out of town, following the hearing I travelled to Bridgewater-on-Loddon to check out the effects of the previous week’s floods (see image above). The impacts are obviously quite devastating – huge trees piled up against the bridges, roads and footpaths washed out, waterlogged buildings and mud-covered gardens and crops, and debris everywhere – not just vegetation but belongings and equipment as well.
On the other hand, the Loddon river looks fantastic – bank-full instead of the measly trickle we have been used to seeing, trees bursting with new growth, birds, insects and frogs in abundance. And every creek in the area is flowing, every farm dam is full. Once the mess is cleared up, the benefits will last for years, and this needs to be taken into account in the economic analysis.
The day finished with a visit to Lake Eppalock, the big reservoir on the Campaspe River. Having visited several times in recent years and stood in the mud at the bottom of the lake bed, seeing it full completely blew my mind. There was actually water flowing down the spillway! And people water-skiing, sailing, swimming, picnicking and enjoying a day out by the lake. It had not occurred to me to take my bathers! Check out the difference between Lake Eppalock circa 2007 and 2011 below.
On the way home I crossed the Campaspe at Redesdale, wondering how such a seemingly small river could fill such a big lake. There again I saw the evidence of the flood – the river had clearly filled the whole valley and been up to the bridge which has been there since 1862!
After all this I was left to reflect on the increasingly extreme nature of our climate and the difficulties of water planning when we spend so little time in ‘average’ conditions. All the more reason for a strong Basin Plan based on best available science that plans for a future where our ecosystems have the best chance to remain healthy whatever the weather.