That was almost 10 years ago in 2003. Last week, at the end of November 2012, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was tabled in the federal Parliament. With support from the Coalition it survived disallowance motions in both Houses so the long process of implementation now begins.
It’s a big moment. For the first time the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin will be managed as a whole instead of according to the arbitrary lines that are state boundaries. The Plan will return 2750 gigalitres of water to the environment – not as much as the rivers need for their long term security but more than they’ve had for a long time.
The big improvement that’s been made to the Plan in the last 12 months is the possibility that the amount of water for rivers will increase over time – the Gillard government has committed to recovering an extra 450 GL.
The Plan still has some major deficiencies – it fails to take the impacts of climate change into account and also allows a big increase in ground water use. At Environment Victoria we’d have liked a much stronger Basin Plan and the whole process has really missed an opportunity to fix the rivers for good >
But we’ve been up against a vigorous, self-interested campaign from some irrigator lobby groups, businesses and upstream states. So the fact that the water recovery target has increased is something to celebrate. There’s also the small matter that over 1500 GL has already been recovered for the environment (mainly through water purchase) and is being used right now to improve conditions for fish and birds.
The thing that has made these improvements to the Plan possible is community action – and that means all of you who signed petitions, made submissions, delivered flyers, came to meetings, called the radio station, alerted your Facebook friends, talked about the Murray at the dinner table and helped in a thousand different ways .
That kind of support for action emboldens the politicians to make better decisions for the environment. In this case the South Australian government pushed hard for more water, but they wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t thought they had the community behind them. And not just in South Australia but all across the country.
So CONGRATULATIONS, your actions have made a difference – the amount of water to go back to the Murray is more than 5 times what it was 10 years ago –that’s a big change!
Of course it’s not the end of the story – it never is – and there’s plenty of work to be done before all that water gets back in the river. And more battles ahead to get the river what it really needs for the long term which is at least 4000 gigalitres. But right now it’s worth pausing for a minute to reflect on what’s been achieved, and thanks to you, it’s quite a lot.