The draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan is proposing to reduce water use in the Goulburn by 344 billion litres/year, which still leaves 1415 billion litres for irrigation and other purposes. As the Basin Plan is supposed to be all about protecting and restoring environmental health, it’s worth asking what this extra environmental water is going to achieve.
The answer depends on where you are in the river system. Upstream of Lake Eildon, not much will change as the Plan is not concerned with this area. Downstream of Eildon Dam, where it’s possible to release environmental water in a managed way, conditions in the river channel and close to the river banks should improve. Which is great news for native fish and river red gums close to the river. What’s less certain is if there will be enough water in these areas for long enough for water birds to complete their breeding cycles regularly.
Higher up the floodplain and further away from the river it’s a different story – as more water is needed to reach these areas and there are a lot of obstacles to getting water there, the environmental outcomes are much less certain. It’s likely that red gums and black box trees in these areas will still receive water only when there is a natural flood, so the Basin Plan is not going to do anything to protect their health. This will be the state of affairs in some parts of the brand new national parks on the lower Goulburn floodplain between Shepparton and Echuca.
The MDBA acknowledges that it will not be able to meet all its environmental objectives for the Goulburn, but doesn’t propose to do anything about it. It needs to have a look at what providing more water in line with scientific recommendations could achieve for the river, and rather than throwing up its hands and saying it is too difficult to get water to where it is needed, the MDBA needs to investigate what can be done about the obstacles, who is going to take responsibility for sorting them out and how much it will cost. And then get on with delivering the water for the whole of the floodplain, not just the bits close to the river.