Except, it really isn’t that simple.
At a critical time in the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, this campaign is trying to detract our attention away from the fact that for too long, too much water has been taken from the Murray River system. But this is hardly surprising when you consider that this campaign is funded by agribusiness, with a vested interest in ensuring that water is retained for irrigators. This simplistic campaign ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that water needs to be returned to rivers to restore the basin to health. Opening up the barrages without restoring flows to the system will only result in the Lower Lakes turning hyper-saline and destroying their ecology and their Ramsar listing for good.1 And as Australian Conservation Foundation point out in an opinion piece a “river system needs to flow from its head to the sea.”
Two recent reports by leading scientists confirm this. Professor Richard Kingsford’s paper shows that the health of the Murray- Darling actually requires more water to be returned than was proposed in last year’s Guide to the Basin Plan. In addition the Goyder Institute report confirms that the survival of key environmental icons in South Australia needs at least 4000 gigalitres of additional fresh water to be returned to the basin.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Myth and the Murray are concerned that a 4000 gigalitre increase in freshwater allocation to the Ramsar listed Lower Lakes is ‘unsustainable’.4 Unsustainable perhaps for the irrigators who rely on water allocations for their rice and cotton crops but certainly not unsustainable for the native fish threatened with extinction.
However, we agree with Johnny Kahlbetzer (Myth and the Murray sponsor and Twynam Agricultural Group owner) when he says that ‘fresh water needs to come down the river to trigger spawning of fish and flow out the Murray Mouth’.3 We also agree with him that the recent flooding of the Murray Mouth, Lower Lakes and Coorong was not because of government water reforms but due to the ‘good flooding rains’. However, we think this makes a compelling argument for strong government water reforms, which look beyond vested interests and create a healthy river system, which delivers enough water to our environment (in times of drought as well as flood). A plan which provides a long term solutions to save the Murray River.
So what is the myth of Myth and the Murray? Basically is comes down to this….. Johnny’s ‘ bottom line is that food and fibre production requires water, so on average there is less water flowing to the Murray Mouth, Coorong and Lower Lakes.’4 Our ‘bottom line’ is that without enough water, rivers will die and communities that depend on them will suffer.
Laura is a keen volunteer for Environment Victoria
1 Dr Kerri Muller Professor Dianne Bell pers. comm.
2 Myth and the Murray website http://www.mythandthemurray.org/petition/ (viewed on 8 June 2011)
3 Johnny Kahlbetzer ‘Free-flowing estuary vital to healthy river’ The Australian June 07, 2011