Environment Victoria is calling on the Victorian Water Minister to refuse to support the Commonwealth government’s proposed ‘off-farm efficiency projects’ after a new report finds they have little or no prospect to recover water for the environment.
New research from The Australia Institute and Conservation SA shows that money originally allocated to ensure a healthy Murray-Darling Basin may be spent on seemingly unrelated infrastructure in New South Wales, including to upgrade over 1200 bridges.
“This report shows the federal Water Minister Keith Pitt isn’t even trying to do his job of returning water to the river system,” said Environment Victoria Healthy Rivers Campaigner Tyler Rotche.
“Instead, he’s put forward proposals for bridges and irrigation water storages. Some of them don’t specify any potential water savings whatsoever.
“How are upgrades to bridges in NSW supposed to improve the health of wetlands thousands of kilometers downstream? Minister Pitt has some serious questions to answer.
“This is either a misuse of the allocated funding or a complete dereliction of duty to restore the health of the river system. Whatever the case, Victoria can’t condone it.
“The Victorian Water Minister should refuse to support any spending on off-farm efficiency projects until there’s credible evidence these projects will recover water at meaningful volumes and a decent price.
“Money from the Water for the Environment Special Account needs to be spent on projects that actually recover water. If that money is misused or left sitting idle, then the wetlands and woodlands of the Murray will pay the price.
“It will mean less fish, fewer water birds and more dead trees lining river banks,” said Environment Victoria Healthy Rivers Campaigner Tyler Rotche.
The Water for the Environment Special Account (WESA) was established to fund efficiency measures to recover an additional 450 gigalitres under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as well as constraints relaxation measures to allow the full benefits of that water to be achieved.
Water was to be recovered through both on-farm and off-farm efficiency measures. However, the Minister has since ruled out on-farm measures, leaving off-farm efficiency projects as the only way to recover the remaining water for the environment required by 2024.
A stocktake list of off-farm proposals was recently released by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE). The new report by The Australia Institute and Conservation SA analyses this list of proposals.