plan to reduce water going back to the Murray Darling Basin

image: Sascha Healy

The Murray Darling Basin Authority is proposing to reduce the amount of water that is currently going back into the river environment. This will stop water recovery in its tracks and limit the environmental outcomes of the Murray Darling 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 needs to recover 3200GL of water to flow for the environment.  If you have a minute, please sign the NSW Conservation Council’s submission before Friday 3rd November.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism

Submissions are due by Friday 3 November

Email to engagement@mdba.gov.au

The current Basin Plan recovers 2,750 GL (billion litres) to be returned to the river environment. The MDBA is now proposing to reduce that amount of water by 605 GL. 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 needs to recover 3200GL of water to flow for the environment.

Points you can use for making your submission:

  • The SDL adjustment process is likely to lock in a water recovery target of 2145 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.
  • There is a lack of transparency around the whole SDL adjustment process.
  • 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 MDBA has failed to provide any detail about the supply projects and for many even most basic details are lacking. 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.
  • The consultation process is flawed. There is a consultation period of a just one month. This makes it very difficult for the public to engage with and assess the proposals. Especially given the lack of basic information.
  • 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.

Background

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 GL (about 20% 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% 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. NSW, Victoria 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 are in the too hard basket and are actively being resisted.

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 (and more comprehensible) information about the projects, extend the consultation period and delay submitting a recommendation to the Federal Government until progress can be made on efficiency measures that drive up water recovery in addition to supply measures that drive it down.

More information is available at:

https://www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan-roll-out/sustainable-diversion-limits/sustainable-diversion-limit-adjustment-mechanism

A few quick additional points:

Make your submission today with the three key points below:

  1. The proposed changes would mean no more water recovered for the environment. Our rivers and wetlands need real water to halt long-term decline.
  2. There is not enough information about the projects underlying the proposed changes to be able to assess them
  3. With no less than five inquiries underway into allegations of corruption and theft, the potential of a judicial inquiry, this is not the time to make changes to water recovery in the Basin Plan.
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