The Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) Plan of 2012 aims to manage both consumptive water use (for towns and irrigators) and environmental water to ensure the natural ecosystems in the basin receive sufficient water for their long-term health. A strong impetus for the plan development was concern about the increasing level of water extraction and declining river health across the Basin.
The success of the plan relies on the cooperation of the four states – Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia - as well as the Federal Government.
Concerns about the effectiveness of the plan have been aired for some time These came to a head in July last year with the ABC TV Four Corners expose about water theft and meter tampering in the Barwon-Darling part of the Basin. That was cause enough for worry but what made it even worse was the lack of effort in NSW to ensure compliance with the law as well as the stench of corruption from the upper level of the NSW department responsible for monitoring and compliance.
At the beginning of this month a group of water scientists and economists aired their concerns about the ineffectiveness of the plan in their Murray-Darling Basin Declaration.
They stated that with $6 billion already spent on water recovery projects across the basin – including $4 billion to subsidise irrigation, there was for many of the projects “no scientific evidence that they have actually increased net stream flows.”
They were also concerned that despite spending $500 million to upgrade water meters “as much as 75 percent of all surface water diversions in the northern part of the Basin may still not have water meters.”
The group has also called for an independent audit of all water recovery measures across the Basin as well as a new scientific body to advise governments on the implementation of the 2007 Federal Water Act, the Act which led to the development of the MDB Plan.
As these criticisms have been rejected by the Federal Government, the MDB Authority and the National Irrigators Council, any improvement to the Plan appears unlikely.
- Leonie Blain