Afford?! Afford what?
We can’t afford not to!
The risks of not restoring the Murray’s wetlands, ecological assets and functions to health – that is, to allocate them a legally-protected and fair share of water so they can operate properly and support healthy and prosperous communities – are multiple, complex, and as yet, not properly being accounted for by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Aside from that, some in the irrigator lobby are yet to concur that in fact, there’s no jobs on a dead planet and no irrigation to be had from a dead river.
Some do agree that resuscitating the Murray is an urgent priority – but not in the face of immediate and inevitable social and economic adjustments. In other words, short-term pain is not worth the long-term gain.
What is paramount is how this adjustment is understood by communities – rural and urban alike.
This presents a communications challenge that is yet to be successfully overcome. Adjustment must also be supported by government with integrated assistance packages and investment in targeted modernisation. Government and industry together with communities need to take a good, hard look at diversifying the opportunities for social and economic prosperity in irrigation communities.
Rivers without enough water is them aren’t any longer the ‘lifeblood of the nation’ – let alone functioning ecosystems that support a myriad of wildlife; with ebbs and flows of water pulsing over river banks and inundating wetlands, setting up a chorus of frogs and waterbirds. The sounds of a living, breathing floodplain are then accompanied by the soft laps of paddles as kayakers, birdwatchers and scientists move amongst the Moira Grass to check on clutches of Intermediate Egrets, and observe White-bellied Sea-Eagles soaring above their territory.
When the Guide was released last year, ACF healthy ecosystems program manager Paul Sinclair opined “[t]he fact is business-as-usual is a dead end for regional economies and the river system.”
In September of 2009, Dimboola locals rejoiced when the Wimmera River transformed from a series of muddy pools, where European Carp plopped in and out of water twice as salty as the sea, to a river flowing for the first time in years.
People from all over Victoria hurried excitedly to see the flowing river, some of them following the water front as it advanced towards Lake Hindmarsh. Tourism businesses had a rush of bookings, local shops a big increase in trade, and the Dimboola rowing regatta was able to be held for the first time in 4 years. In addition to the agricultural benefit of increased rainfall, property prices in Dimboola increased and the feeling of increased well-being was palpable.
While the challenge to restore the Wimmera to good, long-term health is not yet overcome (we need a decent Plan to make respectable headway), these are just some of the social, economic and cultural benefits to be had from restoring rivers to health.
As award-winning journalist Sara Phillips has commented, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is “a plan that Australia cannot afford to stuff up.”
We cannot afford to continue with the present state of affairs. We can afford to return water to the environment.
This Plan is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right – for the environment, and for communities.