The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is at the cross roads. June 2017 is crunch time for final decisions on implementation. The Murray and the Darling, Australia’s greatest rivers and national icons, are in danger of being dudded again as state and federal Water Ministers meet in Canberra today to reach agreement on changes that strike at the heart of the Plan, its environmental water recovery targets.
The Lifeblood Alliance of environment, indigenous and community groups is again calling on the Ministerial Council to implement the Plan on time and in full. If current proposals are agreed, water recovery will stop at two thirds of the target of 2750 GL, outside of the Plan’s legal framework and compromising outcomes for the rivers, communities, Aboriginal people, wildlife, farms and fishers of the Murray-Darling.
“Half a plan is not good enough” said Juliet Le Feuvre, Healthy Rivers Campaigner at Environment Victoria “When they haggled over the Basin Plan in 2012, governments already whittled down the share of the water dedicated to keeping native fish, waterbirds and rivers healthy. Going lower risks all the benefits for communities, farmers and fishers as well as wildlife”.
“The Basin Plan has been an expensive exercise. Taxpayers supported the outcome in good faith so that sufficient water would be returned for environmental needs of a healthy river system. We don’t want to see the Plan go belly up during the implementation phase,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
“The Basin Plan is a once in a generation opportunity to restore the lifeblood to our rivers” said ACF Policy Analyst James Trezise.
“For the past three years governments have bent over backwards to develop supply measure projects that may reduce environmental water needs by 650 GL, while they have simultaneously dragged their feet on developing efficiency projects to deliver more water for the river. The interests of big irrigators are taking precedence over the health of the river and its communities. The ministerial council must ensure the Basin Plan delivers the 450 GL in adjustments for the river that have been promised” said Trezise.
The Basin Plan allows change to the current water recovery target of 2750 GL, up or down, within a limit of 5% of the overall sustainable diversion limit (SDL). Ministers are set to agree a package of 38 projects that will decrease the volume of water for rivers and wetlands by up to 650 GL. They have not developed any realistic proposals to increase water recovery for improving river health, choosing instead to further delay this legally required aspect of the Plan.
Ministers are also set to endorse the Northern Basin Review proposal to strip 70 GL away from the river environment and downstream communities on the Darling River and below Menindee Lakes.
Aboriginal communities, tourism operators, floodplain graziers, recreational fishers, bird watchers, conservationists, downstream water users and the South Australian Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth ecosystems have been ignored during the implementation process of the Basin Plan.
The Ministerial Council must take into account the needs of all social, environmental and economic values that rely on a healthy and resilient river system.
The Lifeblood Alliance consists of environmental, Indigenous and community groups committed to keeping the rivers, wetlands and aquifers of the Murray-Darling Basin healthy for the benefit of current and future generations. The Alliance includes the Australian Conservation Foundation, NSW Nature Conservation Council, Conservation Council of South Australia, NSW National Parks Association, Environmental Farmers Network, Inland Rivers Network, Australian Floodplain Association, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and Environment Victoria.
|Australian Conservation Foundation||James Trezise||0488 386 307|
|Environment Victoria||Juliet Le Feuvre||0428 770 019|
|Inland Rivers Network||Bev Smiles||0428 817 282|
Fisherman | Glen Hill (Meningie, SA)
Irrigator | Peta Thornton (Woorinen, Victoria)
Retired Social Worker | Trevor Caldwell (Paringa, South Australia)
Landholder | Katharine McBride (Tolarno, NSW)
Healthy River Ambassador | Rosa Merlino-Hillam (Meningie, South Australia)
Accountant |Melissa Gray (Dubbo, NSW)
Researcher | Tracey Benson (Canberra, ACT)