The draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan was released for public comment late last year by the government instrumentality the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). This followed the abortive draft , released a year earlier, which was withdrawn by the federal government following intensive lobbying by the irrigation industry.
The irrigation industry is once again noisily opposing the new draft, claiming that it proposes too much water for the environment. This is despite the environmental allocation under the new draft being reduced to 2,700 gigalitres.
The current Draft Plan is woefully inadequate. Given the billions of dollars to be spent with the aim of improving the health of this vital river system, the Australian community will not be getting the result it is paying for if the current draft is accepted by the parliament later this year.
What are the major problems with the Draft?
Firstly, the water to be allocated to the river is inadequate. Scientific studies have indicated that between 4,000 and 7,600 gigalitres are required for there to be any hope of improving the health of the river.
Secondly, the draft provides for a 2,600 gigalitre increase in groundwater extraction. This is folly considering the lack of knowledge about which underground aquifers are connected to rivers and wetlands within the Basin. This extraction could undermine any gains made through reducing surface extraction.
Thirdly, the draft does not consider the likely impacts of climate change. Predictions indicate the available water in the system could be reduced by up to 37% by 2030. With no planning for this, it is inevitable that the environment will once again miss out – with river health further compromised.
Irrigators opposed to returning reasonable flows to the river system are ignoring the fact that, in the long term, their industries rely on a healthy river system. And irrigators are not the only stakeholders in this matter. Tourist operators, floodplain graziers and the entire Australian community have an interest in a healthy Murray Darling. And so of course do the voiceless – the species of flora and fauna which depend on the system for their survival.
Comments on the Plan are due by 16th April 2012. For further information on submissions and the MDBA planning process see the Murray-Darling Basin Authority website.
- L Blain
This post in a slightly shorter form was originally published in "Voices for the Earth" on the Environment Page in The Daily Examiner on 2oth February 2012.