Blog | 19th Dec, 2011

a year in the life of the Healthy Rivers campaign

And what a year it’s been! I came back to work in January in the midst of some of the biggest floods Victoria has ever seen. My first appointment was a trip to Bendigo to present to the Windsor Inquiry into the impacts of the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. On the way home I was able to experience the effects of the floods first hand and check out the mind-bogglingly full Lake Eppalock, which up until then had been a symbol for me of the apparently un-ending drought.

The heavy rains and floods have certainly brought a new dynamic to our campaign work, as well as providing a wonderful boost for river systems across the state. All of a sudden drought was off the agenda, and climate change took a back seat in the minds of politicians and punters alike. According to many, the environmental problems experienced by our rivers and wetlands are fixed for good and we can go back to business as usual.

This is not a view shared by Environment Victoria – while the wetter conditions have been absolutely fantastic for wildlife, especially water birds, all the evidence points to a drier future and water reform remains an urgent priority. Our rivers cannot rely on nature to bail them out in the nick of time again. This year the vehicle for water reform has arrived – the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which has the potential to achieve the long term protection and restoration that we are seeking for our river systems.

The Basin Plan has been the focus of our work all year. We kicked off in February with a big forum at the Sustainable Living Festival, and followed up with a petition postcard to Minister Burke, a fund raising appeal which supported out work and helped pay for a billboard on the Tullamarine Freeway, a series of myth-busting blogs and door-knocking in the Prime Minister’s electorate in the lead up to World Environment Day. None of that would have been possible without the help of our volunteers and supporters who came up trumps in so many ways – thank you all! We also knocked on the doors of several key MPs and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) itself. And I had the pleasure of a canoe trip with Minister Burke at Hattah Lakes which was a memorable day indeed.

In July we said a sad good bye to Amelia Young, and welcomed Domenica to the Healthy Rivers campaign. We also expected the imminent release of the draft Basin Plan, but the MDBA put it off until November to allow more discussion with the states. So we had a few extra months of waiting and planning, but also continued lobbying, meetings and discussions with other NGOs, farmers and irrigators and of course the MDBA and governments. We also had a wonderful day out in October, cruising the waters and enjoying the bird life at Barmah Forest with an enthusiastic group of supporters.

28 November finally was the release of the draft Basin Plan – our response was a mock funeral for our Darling Murray outside the Commonwealth government offices in Treasury Place. We did this because we fear the Plan will miss its big chance to restore our rivers to health, and to highlight the need to return more water to the river systems of the Basin. It was also the start of our push to get 4,000 submissions in to the MDBA before the end of the consultation period in April – you will be hearing plenty more from us on that!

All this on top of the normal business of the Healthy Rivers campaign – e-bulletins, blogs, publishing reports, participating in the development of the Victorian government’s Sustainable Water Strategies and Strategy for Healthy Rivers and Wetlands and supporting our wonderful volunteer representatives on committees for streamflow and groundwater management. We’re also helping to establish the concept and processes of water stewardship in Australia as founder members of (you guessed it!) Water Stewardship Australia.

Before the office shuts for Christmas, I’d like to thank everyone who has participated in the campaign in so many ways – signing our petitions, coming to our talks and meetings, helping out in the office, researching, door knocking, donating money and time and enthusiasm. Thank you! And we hope you have a vey happy festive season and a great break before we meet again for an even more action-packed 2012!