Vic Murray Floodplain Restoration Projects

Environmental approvals and public consultations are underway for the development of 9 Victorian Floodplain infrastructure projects.   

The Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP) consists of 9 subsidiary projects,
proposed by the Victorian government, that have been included as supply measures under the SDL
Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) in the Basin Plan. They are infrastructure projects, involving
regulators, levee banks and pump stations, and are intended to water small areas of floodplain
forest and wetlands.

Write to the Minister and request that each project be designated a controlled action to be assessed by public environment report.

The primary purpose of these projects is to reduce environmental water recovery under the Basin Plan and offset around 40GL of the recovery target. This will have downstream impacts and reduce the ability to water other sites all the way to the Murray mouth.

The Victorian government has been pushing the projects since the Basin Plan was made in 2012, and claims that they will provide improved environmental outcomes at the sites. While the projects will enable emergency watering in times of severe drought, they will water only a tiny fraction of the floodplain and are not a substitute for environmental water recovery. They have unresolved risks and are opposed by many First Nation and community members. They should be rigorously assessed for their impact on the Murray River as a whole and what the reduction in environmental water recovery will mean for internationally significant wetlands downstream. If the risks outweigh the benefits they should not go ahead.

The nine VMFRP projects are:

  1. Hattah Lakes North
  2. Nyah
  3. Vinifera
  4. Burra Creek
  5. Belsar Yungera
  6. Gunbower National Park
  7. Guttrum and Benwell Forests
  8. Lindsay Island
  9. Walpolla Island

All the projects require assessment by the federal government under the EPBC Act for their impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES), which in this case means threatened species and wetlands. The Victorian government, using Lower Murray Water to submit the applications, is referring each project individually for assessment. The referrals appear on the EPBC website and the public has 10 working days to comment with no extension possible.

Many projects have already been referred for assessment and we expect the remaining projects to be referred very soon. While the specifics (which threatened specie and communities, type of structures etc) the following points can be used in submissions on all the projects. The aim is to get rigorous assessment of the impacts of the VMFRP as a whole, including indirect impacts on the river and the vast areas of floodplain that are NOT watered by the project, and alternatives considered, ie full water recovery under the Basin Plan (3200GL) and the management of constraints so that water can get to the floodplain by natural means.

 

Email your letter to Environment Minister Sussan Ley at the following email:

epbc.comments@environment.gov.au

Dot points for letters:

  • The project has not been properly described. It has been referred as an independent project while in fact it is part of the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VFMRP). The 9 component projects of the VMFRP will have a significant cumulative impact on the hydrology of the Murray River as a whole and the ecological character of Ramsar sites downstream. The nine VFMRP projects should be assessed together to properly account for direct and indirect impacts.
  • The description of the project does not consider indirect impacts. The VMFRP as a whole is intended to water 14,000 hectares of floodplain to which this project contributes x ha. The MDBA, in its Basin wide environmental watering strategy, sets a target of 90,600 ha of redgum and 41,000ha of blackbox in good condition on the managed floodplain for the Murray River. The VMFRP contributes 10.7% of this target, and the referral does not consider what will be the consequences for the majority of the managed floodplain that is NOT targeted for watering. The inevitable decline in environmental condition through lack of water will have impacts on threatened species and MNES.

  • The referral only considers the direct impact of construction work. It does not consider the risks of a project as whole, such as increased blackwater events, native fish strandings, increased carp and weed infestations and salinity impacts. In fact all nine of the VMFRP sub-projects have been assessed by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists as not meeting the criteria for SDLAM projects in the Water Act and Basin Plan. They should not proceed unless these risks can be addressed.

  • Alternatives to the project are not considered. The SDLAM is not a mandatory requirement of the Basin Plan and only projects that can genuinely achieve improved environmental outcomes with less water should proceed. A viable alternative exists which is meeting all environmental water recovery targets in the Basin Plan (3200 GL total) and managing constraints so floodplain watering can occur without the need for infrastructure projects.

  • The project lacks community support. There has been a failure to address the concerns of First Nations and the community as a whole lacks information and understanding of the project, particularly its role in reducing water recovery and the consequences for floodplain areas that will not be watered as a result.

  • The referral documents do not explain the relationship between the project and the hydrology of the Murray River, or what the consequences will be for the achievement of downstream flow targets set through the Basin Plan.

  • The Ramsar Convention to which Australia is a signatory requires the ‘wise use’ of all wetlands, including maintenance of their ecological character and the generation of ecosystem services and benefits. The VMFRP projects will not meet this standard of wise use if they end up triaging floodplain wetlands into areas that can conveniently be watered and those that are written off due to lack of environmental water.

  • I request the Minister to declare the xx Project a controlled action and for all nine VMFRP projects to be assessed together as a whole by public environment report under the EPBC Act.

 

Email your letter to Environment Minister Sussan Ley at the following email:

epbc.comments@environment.gov.au

With thanks to Juliet Le Feuvre for compiling the dot points