Blog | 10th Oct, 2012

The more water the better for rivers!

For months we have been asking the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to work out what would happen if the Basin Plan returned more water to the Murray and the other rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin than is currently proposed. This week they came up with at least a partial answer.

The new modelling – which investigates returning 3200 GL to rivers instead of 2750 GL – demonstrates two things that are as important as they are obvious: returning more water to rivers creates better environmental outcomes, and combining more water with the removal of restrictions on its delivery creates even better outcomes. The MDBA says that if they could deliver the 3200 GL they would be able to inundate much larger areas of floodplain and meet 17 of their 18 key environmental objectives for the Murray River. Which is a great improvement on what’s in the current Basin Plan.


Unfortunately it’s not the whole story. The modelling leaves out several important factors, like the effects of climate change, the impacts of increased groundwater extraction and the achievement of really big volumes of water to flood the upper reaches for the floodplain. 3200 GL is not enough to guarantee a healthy Basin, especially if we return to dry conditions, and ecological condition at some of our precious Ramsar sites like Lake Albacutya in Victoria or Narran Lakes in NSW would continue to decline. And we still don’t know how much more benefit returning larger volumes of water, such as the 4000GL recommended by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, would bring.


There is no guarantee that any improvements will be incorporated in the final Basin Plan to go to Parliament later this year. Federal Water Minister Tony Burke has welcomed the new modelling, saying the environmental outcomes would be ‘staggeringly different’ if the constraints on delivering environmental water were removed, but he’s not saying if it will form the baseline for the Plan. South Australia is hoping it will, but Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh has rejected the modelling out of hand, saying the delivery of 3200 GL would ‘cause substantial and sustained flooding of towns and private land, which is totally unacceptable to Victoria’.

So there’s still a lot of politics and negotiating to be done before the Plan is finalised, and there’s also a danger that the timelines for returning water will get pushed out to the mid 2020s, by which time the rivers will be more than likely on their knees again due to drought and climate change.

You can help ensure the Murray gets the water it needs in a timely way by signing our letter to Minister Burke here or by letting Minister Walsh know that leaving our rivers to die is totally unacceptable in Victoria.