The rivers of the Murray-Darling basin are in serious strife. Too much water is being taken out for agriculture and irrigation, and recently ABC FourCorners raised concerns about public money handed to irrigators to upgrade their equipment.
Here’s what’s going on, and why these irrigation subsidies have big problems.
The national Murray-Darling Basin Plan is supposed to be all about getting water back into the rivers. Announcing the plan, then Prime Minister John Howard said it was intended to address “once and for all, the water over-allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin”.
In other words, the whole point is to return water to the environment. But there’s a big problem with how the plan is rolling out.
Thirteen billion dollars of public money is on the table to implement the plan and recover water for our rivers. There are two main ways of getting that water.
The first is buying water off irrigators who are willing to sell. And the second is subsidising irrigators to upgrade their equipment to make them more efficient.
We know buying water from irrigators works. It’s a very effective way of returning water to rivers – you know what you’re getting and how much you’re paying for it.
But when it comes to upgrading irrigation equipment, it’s a different story.
So does subsidising irrigation equipment upgrades actually work?
Governments and irrigators prefer to put their faith in these infrastructure projects, but there are some serious problems.
Experts have described the efficiency program as a “failure and a farce”, “private gain at public cost” and a “national scandal”.
Federal water Minister David Littleproud says his number one priority is to restore trust and transparency to the Basin Plan. These irrigation efficiency projects are the place to start.
What we need is a comprehensive, independent water audit to answer three questions:
A water audit could get to the bottom of this, restore confidence in the Basin Plan and reassure the public that governments can act in the public interest to care for our rivers.
A comprehensive water audit is just one of our recommendations to get the Murray Darling Basin plan back on track.
Together with the Lifeblood Alliance, we’ve created a seven point strategy to restore integrity in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, rescue our rivers and support the communities that depend on them.
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.