For too long, too much water has been taken from river systems, causing degradation and damage to our environment. The consequences are dire for wildlife, for the quality of our drinking water and for the future of regional economies.
For well over a century water has been diverted from rivers for irrigated agriculture, rural and metropolitan towns, and for use in other industries.
With water use in the Murray-Darling Basin increasing by over 500 percent over the past 80 years, even Blind Freddy can see that the flow of our rivers has changed – with some pretty drastic effects. The Murray-Darling Basin has developed into the ‘foodbowl of the nation’ – growing 40 percent of the country’s agricultural produce. Meanwhile, over 30 dams and 3,500 weirs have been built on watercourses in the Basin. The results have been catastrophic for the environment.
In fact, in 2007 the Commonwealth Parliament passed a new Water Act with the support of both sides of politics – that’s how bad the problem is.
The overuse of water has turned fresh water to salt, dried up our lakes, and destroyed our magnificent River Red Gum wetlands.
Over 90 percent of the Basin’s wetlands are gone. Native fish in the Basin have fallen to 10 percent of their original numbers. Up to half of those are threatened with extinction.
For generations, the Murray mouth was open to the sea. Now we take so much water out of the river that its mouth is closed most of the time.
‘But it’s rained!’ we hear you say. Unfortunately, the recent rain won’t fix the damage caused by years of overuse.
The drought experienced in the last ten years has taken its toll on rivers; and it was different to anything experienced in the century before.
The Murray has experienced years of drought followed by intense flooding. Under climate change, we can expect more of these severe weather patterns.
In ‘normal years’ between 40 and 50 percent of flow was extracted from the Murray; when rainfall decreases, inflows drop, and drought kicks in, the river is deprived of a massive 74 percent of its flow.
Without enough water, rivers will die and communities that depend on them will suffer. Despite this, irrigator lobby groups are pushing for irrigation to continue at all costs, no matter what the weather. They’re even claiming the recent floods mean the Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be delayed, or put-off entirely.
The truth is, though, that recent rains are no cause for complacency with regards to national water reform. Business-as-usual is a dead end for regional economies and the river system. These lobby groups – with vested interests – are dominating the debate.
But 7 out of 10 Victorians want the Murray protected.
Perhaps you’re one of the massive ‘silent majority’ who wants a national plan that will protect rivers?
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is our chance to turn things around, to save the Murray, and its communities, forever.