Media Releases | 14th May, 2024

New Victorian position on Basin Plan acknowledges irrigation needs to adapt, but raises concerns about delays

In its first detailed public response to a revised Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the Victorian government has put forward the idea of rationalising irrigation infrastructure – reducing the total area under irrigation – as an alternative to open-tender water buybacks. 

The position is included in documents released today, including a new factsheet for irrigation communities about the need to adapt to future challenges (link). 

“This is the first detailed public response from Victoria to changes that passed federal Parliament last year, which allowed the Commonwealth to start buying water again to benefit the river,” said Environment Victoria Rivers and Nature Campaign Manager Greg Foyster. 

“It’s a positive sign the Victorian government is reengaging with the Basin Plan and thinking about opportunities for water recovery – including rationalising irrigation infrastructure, which hasn’t been discussed as frequently over the last decade. 

“But we need to be clear that this is only one option, and potentially a slow one. While we support shutting down unnecessary or under-used irrigation channels, this shouldn’t be an excuse to delay buying water desperately needed for wetlands and wildlife. 

“The Victorian government’s request to be given details of contracts between the Commonwealth and private irrigators before they are signed is also over-the-top and unrealistic. 

“It’s important to point out that most people who sell water for the benefit of the river stay in farming, only selling some of their water rights. That means they continue to use and pay for irrigation infrastructure.  

“Fish, frogs, birds and our majestic river red gums have been waiting 10 years for water that was promised under the Basin Plan but not delivered. It makes sense to purchase this water now ahead of the next drought, offering a crucial lifeline to threatened species. 

“Open-tender water purchases remain the most cost-effective way to recover water for the environment and it’s disappointing to see the Victorian government once again refusing to listen to the evidence of independent economic experts. 

“We hope the Victorian government’s new approach leads to a broader discussion about how regional communities can thrive alongside a healthy river, and what sustainable irrigation looks like in a hotter, drier climate,” said Mr Foyster. 

Image Credit: John Morton


Greg Foyster, River and Nature Campaign Manager

Ph: 0410 879 031