|Environment Victoria and the Australian Conservation Foundation will present this opening statement to the Senate Select Committee on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Shepparton on Friday 6 November.
“The Commonwealth Water Act, the Basin Plan and the $13 billion of taxpayers’ money supporting its implementation were developed to deal with a really big problem. Unsustainable over-extraction of water from rivers was a big enough problem in the 1980s for COAG to ‘cap’ water use in the Basin, but there was little progress towards quantifying the degree of over-extraction or devising pathways to return extraction for irrigation to sustainable levels. And then the Millennium Drought started to bite.
By the time John Howard revealed his $10 billion ‘National Plan for Water Security’ in 2007 to “address once and for all water over-allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin” – large swathes of the Basin were hurtling towards ecological collapse: 90% of the wetlands were gone; 90% of native fish were gone; colonially nesting waterbird numbers had plummeted; there had been no flow at the Murray Mouth since 2002; the water in the Lower Lakes was below sea level, saltier than the sea and the drying lake beds turning acidic. Water quality problems including blue-green algal outbreaks were widespread. Water inflow to storages in 2006 was 40% of the previous historical low and with no end to the drought in sight, water sharing plans being switched off, existing environmental water rights qualified, all Basin water users were desperate for a solution.
That solution is manifested in the Basin Plan. No-one thinks the plan is perfect, but after years of negotiation, consultation and compromise, the Basin Plan secured bipartisan support across all its jurisdictions and the support of all major environmental, peak and industry bodies. Just three years into implementation, at the start of another drought and when the benefits of providing a fair share of water to the environment are just beginning to show, is no time to hit the panic button, turn the clock back and throw out $13 billion of taxpayers’ money. The problem of over-extraction still exists and the Basin Plan is there to fix it and provide a healthy river system for all to benefit from.
Dedicated environmental water allows environmental managers to directly address environmental problems and to avoid future issues. Recent watering here in the Goulburn has been timed to encourage Murray cod and yellowbelly to spawn and breed and the fishing is better than it has been in years. But the benefits are much broader than that – environmental water flowing out of the Goulburn travels downstream and can be used to water red gums at Gunbower, fill the lakes at Hattah and keep salinity levels in check in the Coorong.
The Basin Plan is intended to manage water resources in the national interest and provide good water quality for all. Environmental watering does more than just trigger fish breeding – environmental flows flush salt from the system, keep algal blooms in check and limit the possibility of black water events. You can’t irrigate or water stock with salty or toxic water.
Our rivers need to function as an ecosystem, not a series of disconnected irrigation sites. So we can’t afford to stop now, the Basin Plan and its $13 billion investment is the best chance we have to put our rivers and our irrigation communities on a sustainable footing for the long term, ‘once and for all’ in John Howard’s memorable words”.
We will be giving evidence at the Riverlinks Eastbank Centre, 70 Welsford St, Shepparton at 9.30am on Friday 6 September.
|For more information, contact:
Juliet Le Feuvre, Environment Victoria 0428 770 019
Arlene Harriss-Buchan, Australian Conservation Foundation 0407 883 907