For the first time in two years the Darling River is flowing into the Murray – signalling a more hopeful future for the Murray-Darling Basin. Slowly but perhaps only momentarily, some parts of the river system have started to come back to life.
A healthy Murray-Darling should not be a rare or unusual thing for Australian river communities. They shouldn’t have to hold their breath, hoping the water makes it downstream. Healthy water flows are something our governments should prioritise in order to protect the people, jobs and regional economies that rely on our rivers for their survival.
Last week Mick Keelty, Interim Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources, released a timely report that revealed that water flows into the Murray have reduced by 50 per cent over the past twenty years compared to the century before owing to drought, worsened by climate change.Healthy water flows are something our governments should prioritise in order to protect the people, jobs and regional economies that rely on our rivers for their survival.Click To Tweet
There is less water going into the river. At the same time, too much water is being sucked out through inappropriately distributed water licenses. To use the analogy of a glass of water – there are simply too many straws in the glass.
State and federal governments had been tasked with lowering the amount of water taken out of rivers to a manageable level by July 2019. Many rivers such as the Campaspe in Victoria or the Murray in South Australia have met those targets. In fact, around 20 per cent of the water that was consumed a decade ago is now flowing again in the Murray-Darling system.
Some northern Basin rivers like the Condamine Balonne, Namoi and Border Rivers still need to reduce the amount of water taken out to achieve those targets. It is vital that they do so, because these rivers feed the Darling River.
The best way for the Federal and State governments to assist river communities now is to make up the difference by buying back water from willing sellers. Those water licenses could be repurposed for the overall benefit of everyone living and working along the river.
Although recent rainfall has provided much needed relief to some parts of the Murray-Darling, drought conditions prevail in many other areas, where local communities and ecosystems remain under stress.
One particularly shocking finding from Keelty’s report was that water flows from the Darling into the Menindee Lakes has reduced by 80 per cent in the past 20 years compared to the historical record.
The Lifeblood Alliance, a coalition of community groups working towards a healthy Murray-Darling river system, estimates that an injection of $100 million would buy back enough water from willing sellers to throw a lifeline to the Murray-Darling Basin rivers.
At present, the Basin plan remains approximately 50 billion litres short of the legally required water recovery target, and this water could be purchased using unspent money from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
While $100 million might sound like a lot, in the context of the billions being spent (rightly) supporting communities through the COVID-19 pandemic – it is a relatively small amount to pay for the massive positive potential impacts improved water flows can have.
The longer drought goes on, and the more climate change bites, the harder this gets.
There are many factors that have led to the current state of play – including climate change, drought and mismanaged water diversions. But right now, the river needs to keep more of its water to bring much needed prosperity back to river communities.
The Murray-Darling river system is the lifeblood of this country. When we allow enough water to flow down the river we add lasting resilience to our natural ecosystems on which our lives depend.
This article was originally published in the Herald Sun, you can read it here
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