News | 2nd Mar, 2012

Baillieu wants $380 from Canberra for river projects

Friday, 2 March 2012
Tom Arup, The Age

Victoria has demanded $380 million in federal funding for environmental works in the Murray-Darling, as it begins to outline its wish list under plans to reform the river.

State Water Minister Peter Walsh will today outline the 14 projects he wants funded, saying the money should come from the Commonwealth's $3.1 billion program to buy back farmer's water, not a $5.8 billion kitty for water saving infrastructure.

It comes as The Age has learnt the Baillieu government recently asked the Murray-Darling Basin Authority — the independent body charged with drawing up a new basin plan — to model the impacts of returning 1800 billion litres of water to the environment.

That is well below the 2750 billion litres currently proposed in a draft version basin plan released late last year. It is understood the Authority has rejected Victoria's request.

Conservationists instead say 4000 billion litres of water needs to be returned to ensure the Murray-Darling's long-term environmental health. But irrigators argue the current proposal would hurt regional industries and communities.

Victoria — along with other basin states — will be a major political player in influencing the design and implementation of the final basin plan, due later this year.

Victoria's environmental works projects include $40 million for regulators at Lindsay Island to water floodplains, $105 million to buy flood easements for the Goulburn River, and $10 million to water black box communities in the Gunbower Forest.

“These works will achieve the same environmental outcomes using far less water than that required to raise river levels and create over bank flows as proposed by the Basin Plan," Mr Walsh said.

“They will also leave more water for agriculture, which underwrites the long-term future of communities in northern Victoria and the state's food security.”

But Federal Water Minister Tony Burke said the Victorian Government knew full well complex modelling was already under way to determine whether the projects were feasible.

"We want to make sure the environment works actually bridge the gap or reduce the gap [of the amount of water that needs to be returned to the river]," he said.

Mr Burke said Victoria also still had earmarked $103 million in water infrastructure that should be explored before turning to the buy back money.

Environment Victoria's Juliet Le Feuvre said the State Government's pitch was a clear attempt to grab money intended for water purchases for the environment and instead spend it on infrastructure.

Mr Walsh also wants the states, along with catchment management authorities and local communities, to direct how environment water from buyback, held by the Commonwealth, should be used.

"It would be a disaster if this water was to be managed centrally from Canberra. The Commonwealth has already flooded areas in the Murrumbidgee because they don't understand how the river system works," he said.