Have you heard the news? Last week the Federal Government slashed the Murray Darling Basin Plan by one fifth.
The Basin Plan was an agreement to restore the health of the river after drought and decades of over extraction had decimated the ecological communities on the river. The river has been sick for a long time, the Darling has run dry, and fish, birdlife and wetlands are struggling near the mouth of the Murray. This change is one more nail in the coffin.
The Coalition succeeded in slashing 605 billion litres of water from the Plan, with Labor’s support after long negotiation. Some small wins were achieved, but if you’re wondering how much water that is, it’s a lot. In fact, it’s more water than Sydney Harbour holds at high tide.
Tied to this change is funding for states to build “Supply measure” projects; engineering projects, like levees, and pumps to hold environmental water in the forest. These projects are to deliver “equivalent environmental outcomes” with less water. Or so they say..
Absent from the agreement was any conditions that would secure accountability to these projects. Independent research, conducted by the Wentworth Groups of Concerned Scientists, says that of the 36 projects put forward by Basin states, only 1 stands up to scientific rigger. The remaining 35 projects either blatantly fail to meet the conditions of the Basin Plan, or have not been assessed thoroughly enough to know.
This includes all 9 projects that are to be built in Victoria in places such as Gunbower NP, Barmah Millewa NP, Nyah-Vinifera, Wallpolla Island, BelsarYungera, Burra Creek and Linsday Island.
This is before considering the impact constructing new infrastructure in our national parks will have on cultural heritage. The Echuca Declaration states “Water is living being and should be treated accordingly. Many of our ancestral beings are created by and live in water.”
Flow regulators, levees and concrete are another disruption to returning the river to its natural rhythm. Any development must consider the impact it will have on cultural heritage and should only proceed once it has full, prior and informed consent from Traditional Owners in the Basin.
If you can’t get your head around how environmental outcomes can be achieved with less water, you’re not alone. It doesn’t stack up, our best inventions are ones that mimic nature, we cannot play god better than nature itself.
The fact is powerful corporate irrigation lobbies have been working to undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan since its conception. But we know small farmers, indigenous and regional communities care about their forests and the health of the river, because the river is their lifeblood.
With the federal deal done and dusted, we have to look to Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government to provide transparency and integrity. This November is the Victorian State election, we need to rally behind the communities in the Murray Darling Basin.
Right now Water Minister Lisa Neville is attuned to the power of irrigation lobbyists but together we can demand that the Minister reviews the SDL projects, listens to locals on the ground who care about the river, and visits our special red gum forests, wetlands and flood plains to give them the love and care they deserve.
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