Blog | 8th Jul, 2019

This is how we can save the Murray-Darling Basin

Here are 7 ways we can restore integrity to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan amid the growing list of rorts and scandals.

Take action

The $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan set out to save our rivers from environmental disaster, but is now facing growing allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Rorts exposed by ABC’s Four Corners are a consequence of state and federal governments ruling out water buybacks. Instead they chose to give public money to big corporate irrigators to build untested infrastructure projects.

The projects were supposed to improve water efficiency. But there’s increasing evidence these public handouts have simply lined the pockets of private companies with little benefit to taxpayers or to our stressed river system.

The lack of transparency and accountability means it’s hard to know the full extent of the rorting or how much water (if any) has actually been recovered. So here is a 7 point action plan to restore integrity in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, rescue our rivers and support the communities that depend on them.

1. Protect River Flows

  • Prevent redirection of environmental water to other uses, including for private purposes during dry times.
  • Resume open tender buybacks to enable cost effective water recovery and meet Basin Plan environmental targets.
  • Protect low flows and maintain connectivity within and between the rivers of the northern Basin.

2. Establish Good Governance

  • Restore the National Water Commission as the independent oversight body for national water reform.
  • Establish an independent Federal Basin Plan Regulator to deal with enforcement of water resource plans, underpinned by a National Integrity Commission.
  • Undertake rigorous independent assessment of all water recovery projects prior to any further funding or works begin, including ‘bridging the gap’ and Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) supply and efficiency measures.
  • Ensure trading rules protect the environment.

3. Build Resilient Communities

  • Support Basin communities broaden their economic base to adjust to a more variable water future and build socio-economic resilience.
  • Encourage wider representation and participation in decision making and actively encourage First Nations involvement to advocate for cultural water needs.

4. Secure First Nations Cultural Water

  • Secure unallocated surface and groundwater across the Basin as a Strategic Indigenous and Environmental Reserve.
  • Provide appropriate funding for First Nations to buy water in fully-allocated systems, and co-design models for acquiring and holding water entitlements.
  • Address urgent threats to cultural values and Native Title rights in the Lower Darling and other critically impacted waterways by restoring low flows and connectivity.
  • Develop a national First Nations Water Strategy to address key unfinished business in water reform.

5. Align Water Extraction with Science

  • Ensure Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) reflect an environmentally sustainable level of take, including accounting for climate change.
  • Licensing of floodplain harvesting must not be used to increase overall water extraction limits.
  • Include minimum flow provisions under low flows and drought in all sub-catchments as part of Water Resource Plans.
  • Fund and implement a comprehensive Native Fish Strategy.

6. Track Basin Plan Progress

  • Conduct a full independent audit of environmental water recovery to date, including water availability for provision of environmental flows.
  • Measure real world river flows against Basin Plan targets, with improved modelling, monitoring and reporting.
  • Undertake an independent review of whether the Basin Plan is meeting its objectives under the Commonwealth Water Act, while allowing for realistic timeframes for ecological restoration. Include consideration to whether Australia is fulfilling its obligations to protect internationally recognised RAMSAR sites.

7. Improve Transparency

  • Adopt a consistent approach to measuring, monitoring and compliance across all Basin States through mandatory metering and real time monitoring including satellite tracking, to provide up-to-date information on water availability.
  • Establish a free, publicly-accessible register of water ownership across the Basin, and a National Water Exchange with public reporting of all water trades.
  • Require open access to all data, modelling and reporting conducted by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

This post was produced in collaboration with the Lifeblood Alliance, which 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.