Blog | 13th Jun, 2012

Murray-Darling Basin Plan – mixed messages all round

Remember all those submissions you sent in, thousands of them asking for more water to be returned to the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin?  Well it seems like the message we sent so loud and clear is not getting through…

A couple of weeks ago the MDBA released a third draft of the Basin Plan for consultation with the states. Not a lot has changed from previous versions. The amount of water to be returned to rivers is obstinately stuck at 2750 billion litres which sounds like a lot but is not enough to restore our rivers to health. There’s some progress on the groundwater front (from bad to less bad) and in some of the details on environmental watering, but otherwise not much different – floodplains will continue to be left high and dry and salt will continue to accumulate in the system.

And the states remain at loggerheads. Victoria and NSW are calling for less water to go back into rivers and South Australia is making a strong push for more.  SA Premier Jay Weatherill says the plan ‘sells out the river to vested interests’ while Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh says that it will be the ‘death warrant’ for agricultural communities in northern Victoria. And everyone is clamouring for someone else to take responsibility, and for money to be spent on infrastructure, instead of buying water which is the most efficient and cost effective way  of providing environmental benefits.

So how to make sense of all this and where to from here? One thing’s for sure – the proposed Plan still doesn’t do enough to make our rivers healthy. Fortunately federal Water Minister Tony Burke seems to understand this and says he’s not satisfied with the current draft. He has spoken of the need to return more water, and of building a mechanism into the Plan to allow this to happen over time. He also says that when push comes to shove he has the power to over-ride the states and direct the MDBA to come up with a plan to deliver the goods for the environment. So now would be a good time to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Drop him a line here and tell him you support him in presenting a Plan to Parliament that will return our rivers to health. >

The South Australian government is pushing hard for a stronger Plan – down at the end of the system the negative effects of over-extraction of water are all too obvious. Premier Weatherill has set up a national  ‘Fight for the Murray’ campaign. Check it out here and sign up if you like it. >

It’s a stark contrast to the attitude of the Victorian government which is hell bent on reducing the amount of water to be returned to rivers. They think that Victoria has done enough for its own rivers and that downstream is someone else’s responsibility, and have released a report claiming that 2100 billion litres will do as good a job for the environment as 2800. Minister Walsh would have us believe that environmental infrastructure such as pumps and regulators could make this possible, but the scientific evidence is against him.

If you’re sick of the Victorian government sabotaging the Basin Plan and writing off our river systems, send an email to Minister Walsh here or Premier Baillieu here  and let them know. Tell them that rivers die from the mouth up and that the health of the Coorong is something Victorians should be prepared to take action to protect. Otherwise why should anyone else care about our own precious sites?