Blog | 25th Jul, 2011

for the Basin Plan

Excitement is growing here in the Healthy Rivers team about the imminent release of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

We hear that is should be made public by mid August, and we are very curious to know what it is going to propose for our river systems. Will it give back enough water to give them a fighting chance of returning to health? What sort of environmental objectives will it set? We’ve been hearing about an ‘adaptive management’ approach to meeting these objectives, but what does the term actually mean and what will the approach be like? And what kind of a process will the draft Plan set out for implementing the proposed reductions in water use and helping communities adapt to a drier future?

In a speech to the Sydney Institute last week, federal Water Minister Tony Burke began to set out what he thinks the Basin Plan ought to achieve. He made valuable remarks about the importance of ecosystem processes and the benefits that healthy rivers and wetlands provide. He talked about species like the White-faced heron and the Yellow-billed spoonbill, but he did not define any measurable outcomes like how many herons or spoonbills. The only concrete example that he gave was that he expected the Murray mouth to be open in nine years out of ten.

The success of the Basin Plan will be judged by what it actually achieves in ecological outcomes so here at Environment Victoria we are working up a list of things that we want it to do, with a particular focus on our state. These include:

  • Providing breeding opportunities for birds like egrets, ibis and spoonbills at least every 3 years, which means flooding places like Barmah and Gunbower Forests to provide the food that the birds need to breed
  • Keeping the trees in our beautiful new River Red Gum national parks in good condition, which again means providing an appropriate flooding regime
  • Providing cues for native fish to breed and migrate, to halt the decline in numbers and double existing populations in the next 10 years (numbers have been down as low as 10% of pre-European levels)
  • Keeping the Murray mouth open in 9 years out of 10 – the health of the estuary is an absolutely key indicator of what is going on up stream
  • Flushing 2 million tonnes of salt from the Basin out to sea every year to allow healthy floodplains and productive agriculture to continue

These outcomes are specific and measurable, and can be monitored as the Basin Plan is implemented. They’re the sort of thing you can hang your hat on and we’ll be looking to see how the draft Plan measures up against them. We’ll be adding others as we analyse the proposals made by the MDBA.

Once the draft Basin Plan comes out, we’ll be springing into action with analysis and submission information on Environment Victoria’s website. We’ll be holding workshops in Shepparton, Mildura and Melbourne to help you understand what the draft Plan means for the river systems of northern Victoria in early October, and hopefully we will be running a bus tour to show you some of the sights.

To keep in touch with what we’re up to, please keep checking the website or sign up to the Healthy Rivers bulletin. And in the mean time don’t forget to send our interactive e-card to the Chair of the MDBA to let him know you want him to save the Murray forever.