News | 5th Oct, 2011

Green groups reject river plans

Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Tom Arup, The Age

A coalition of green groups says it will reject new plans to save the Murray-Darling rivers following a briefing on the proposed changes yesterday.

The groups, including the Wilderness Society, Environment Victoria and Friends of the Earth, say the ''best science'' has not been used to develop a proposal to return 2800 billion litres of water a year to the river from farmers' water rights, a figure they argue is inadequate to protect the environment.

The independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority is preparing a draft basin plan to be released in November, which will contain its recommended cuts to farmers' water rights.

The proposed 2800-billion-litre cut is less than the 3000 to 4000 billion litres recommended by the authority in a ''guide'' to the new basin plan released last year.

The Wilderness Society's Chris Daley said yesterday the group of 10 green groups ''completely reject the authority's proposed 2800 gigalitres of environmental flows as it will condemn the river system to continual decline and possible collapse''.

Jonathan La Nauze, from Friends of the Earth, said ''the ecological outcomes of 2800 gigalitres are frightening, the entire South Australian floodplain has been written off and there is a very low chance that the red gums of the Goulburn, Murray and Murrumbidgee would survive''.

The environmentalists' position puts them at odds with a number of irrigator groups that have already indicated that a cut of 2800 billion litres of water a year is too high and will devastate rural communities.

The 3000 to 4000 billion litres of water a year cut put forward by the authority last year was met with anger in some rural communities, culminating in copies of the guide being burnt at an angry consultation meeting in Griffith.

Since then the authority says it has strengthened the modelling it is using to devise the cuts, which has led to the lower figure.

The green groups called on federal Water Minister Tony Burke to order an independent peer review of the approach taken by the authority.

The statement comes as it is understood the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers' Federation have quietly agreed on a ''statement of principles'' on reform of the Murray-Darling.

The statement does not include any agreement on the final cuts to farmers' water rights.

But it does say that voluntary water buy-backs and new water-saving infrastructure should be used to return water to the river, that the best science should be used to develop a new basin plan and good community engagement about the changes should be ensured.

The Australian Conservation Foundation was not part of yesterday's statement by green groups.


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