Environment Victoria has welcomed Prime Minister Gillard’s announcement today of new funds to secure extra water for the ailing Murray River system.
The Federal Government today committed $1.77 billion of new funds to secure an extra 450 billion litres (GL) of water via an agreement with the South Australian Government. This new water, combined with the Basin Plan proposal to set a water recovery target of 2750 GL, could see a total of 3200 GL of water recovered for the environment.
3200GL meets about 65 percent of the Murray-Darling Authority’s targets for a healthy river and this deal still leaves 35 percent of the river system for dead. To fix this, Environment Victoria said the headline number of 2750 GL in the Basin Plan isn’t enough and needs improvement.
Environment Victoria CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said today:
“More water means better environmental outcomes. If we get to 3200 GL it would be a significant improvement on the 2750 GL originally on offer. It would mean more water in our rivers and wetlands like Gunbower Forest and it could mean the difference between life and death for the Coorong. Let’s be clear though, we’re still gambling with the future health of the river system and failing to protect important environmental assets, particularly in the northern Basin.
“However there is no guarantee that we will get to 3200 GL as under the current Basin Plan the target of 2750 GL can be adjusted down.
“3200 GL should be a starting point, with a plan to recover more water. Instead it is being viewed as a cap or an end point which doesn’t guarantee the future health of the Murray River and communities dependent on it.”
Ms O’Shanassy said that the Federal government appeared to be relying on the most expensive means of recovering extra water by backing infrastructure upgrades over highly popular and cheaper water buybacks.
“The Gillard government is proposing to spend an extra $1.7 billion on irrigation infrastructure to recover the increased environmental water. This is the most expensive way of returning water to the environment and the outcomes are uncertain.
“Buying water from willing sellers has been proven to be highly efficient, cost effective and popular with irrigators as every buyback tender has been well and truly oversubscribed.”
Ms O’Shanassy concluded:
“Today’s announcement does however show that the South Australian government’s efforts to improve the Basin Plan have had some impact, and South Australia is set to benefit from new Commonwealth funds to support the environment and irrigators.
“By contrast the Victorian government’s persistent efforts to try and weaken the Basin Plan have left them empty-handed. They have neglected both the health of the river and the prosperity of communities dependent on a healthy river.”
For comment: Kelly O’Shanassy 0421 054 402