0Healthy Rivers Resources Make a submission to help protect the Basin Plan

MDBA Submission Background

Rivers need water to make them healthy, right? Not according to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority which is proposing to water down its own plan to restore the Murray and the Darling to health. Please ask them to reconsider.
Submissions are due by Friday 3 November and can be emailed to engagement@mdba.gov.au.


Points to include in your submission

Please make a submission to the MDBA using some or all of the following dot points:

  • There is a lack of transparency around the whole SDL adjustment process.
  • The MDBA has failed to provide any detail about the supply projects and for many even most basic details are lacking (there is only a paragraph of information about each on the MDBA website). We do not know what their environmental outcomes will be or how they contribute to the Basin wide environmental watering strategy and its targets for water birds, fish and vegetation.
  • Some projects are still in an early stage of development and require years more work before the exact outcomes will be known and implementation can begin.
  • There are no firm proposals to deliver any extra water for the environment, only a shopping list of possible ideas.
  • As a result, the SDL adjustment process is likely to lock in a water recovery target of 2140 GL, only two thirds of the agreed and much needed 3200 GL. This is unacceptable.
  • We don’t know if the new SDLs will leave enough water in the river to keep the Murray Mouth open for the target 9 out of 10 years.
  • The process is based on environmental trade-offs but we don’t know what they are.
  • The impacts of the revised water recovery target on aboriginal cultural values has not been assessed, despite requirements in the Basin Plan to do so and the repeated requests of Traditional Owners.
  • Using infrastructure projects and rule changes to deliver environmental outcomes instead of providing actual water has never been tried before anywhere in the world. It is an untested process and full of risk for an already stressed river system – truly uncharted waters.
  • The consultation process is flawed. There is a consultation period of a just a month which makes it very difficult for the public to engage with and assess the proposals, especially given the lack of basic information on which to make an assessment of MDBA’s proposed changes.
  • The consultation is taking place after major decisions have already been made and the MDBA has only a few weeks to process public input before it has to present a final determination to the federal Water Minister on 15 December 2017.
  • Allegations of water theft and meter tampering in the northern Basin are currently under investigation and changes to the Basin Plan should not be considered until all the current inquiries are complete.
  • The lack of security for environmental water, especially in NSW where the rules permit irrigator access to water purchased for environmental purposes under certain conditions, is undermining the success of the plan and again changes should not be considered until the problems have been fixed.

At the heart of the national Murray-Darling Basin Plan are long term Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs). These limits will determine how much water can be diverted from the rivers and aquifers of the Basin for human use, for agriculture and towns. As the name suggests, they are intended to be sustainable in the long term, to protect and restore the health of rivers and wetlands and to provide a secure future for river communities.

When the Plan was made in 2012, it set SDLs for each catchment in the Basin, from the Condamine-Balonne in Queensland to the Campaspe in Victoria, and for the whole of the Basin. These are due to come into effect in 2019 and require the return of 2750 gigalitres (GL), about 20 percent of overall water use, to the environment to keep our rivers healthy. To date we’ve recovered around 2000 GL for rivers and the benefits are beginning to show.

But the plan also allows these limits to be changed, through the SDL Adjustment Mechanism, by up to 5 percent overall. This can be achieved by

  • Reducing the volume of water for the environment by up to 650 GL through untested infrastructure projects and changes to river rules (known as supply measures)
  • Increasing the volume of water for the environment by up to 450 GL through improved irrigation efficiency (known as efficiency measures)

We are now at the crunch point in this process. Victoria, NSW and the Commonwealth have put a huge amount of effort into developing supply projects to bring down the volume of water for rivers, while the efficiency measures have been put in the too hard basket and are actively being resisted.

The MDBA is proposing to change the SDLs and reduce the amount of water for the environment by 605 GL across the Basin, in addition to a further 70 GL reduction in the north, in the Darling and its tributaries. This will stop water recovery in its tracks and limit the environmental outcomes of the Plan.

To give birds, fish, frogs and trees a fair go, keep salinity in check so that the rivers water can be used, and keep the mouth of the Murray open, the plan aims to recover 3200GL of water for the environment. For this we need the efficiency measures and they are nowhere to be seen.

Issues of trust and transparency are getting in the way of the achieving the best possible outcomes of the Basin Plan. Please ask the MDBA to provide more (comprehensible) information, extend the consultation period and delay submitting a recommendation to Minister Joyce until progress can be made on efficiency measures that drive up water recovery in addition to supply measures that drive it down.

Details of the MDBA’s proposals are here and additional information from the Victorian government is here.

Submissions are due by Friday 3 November and can be emailed to engagement@mdba.gov.au or submitted online at https://getinvolved.mdba.gov.au/SDLAM. Don’t be put off by MDBA’s questions – you can say what you want under ‘any other issues’!

Thank you so much for taking this important action for our rivers.