Water

Pause the Plan!

by
December 11, 2017

Katandra farmer Garry McNab has seen dairy farms disappearing from the landscape of the region, to be replaced by less intensive land use.

Calls are growing for a halt to the transfer of water from agriculture to the environment, as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan becomes bogged down in inquiries and interstate squabbling.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum co-chair David McKenzie believes the plan should be paused for two years.

‘‘Almost everyone thinks it is not working properly,’’ Mr McKenzie said.

He said the several reviews, the South Australian royal commission and calls for judicial inquiries showed the basin plan’s implementation was ‘‘in almost complete disarray’’.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said the Murray-Darling Basin Plan must be paused and a federal judicial inquiry announced to restore community confidence.

Ms Sheed said no further water should be stripped out of basin communities until a comprehensive review of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the implementation of the plan to date was completed.

“It has been four months since the Four Corners story revealed allegations of widespread water theft and complete failures of governance in the northern basin and there have been up to 10 inquiries, reviews and investigations looking into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,” Ms Sheed said.

“While these inquiries are beginning to bring to the fore many of the issues facing basin communities, the problems regarding governance, technical modelling and the socio-economic repercussions go much deeper.’’

Water industry leaders and MPs are questioning whether there has been time to evaluate water delivery into the region’s rivers and streams.

“While these inquiries are beginning to bring to the fore many of the issues facing basin communities, the problems regarding governance, technical modelling and the socio-economic repercussions go much deeper.

“Quite frankly, this ad hoc, piecemeal approach is absurd. It would be laughable if the risk to our communities wasn’t so high.”

Ms Sheed said while she acknowledged the needs of the environment and the work put into existing water recovery initiatives and the recently recommended environmental offset projects, she said pursuing the plan in full would be a tipping point for river communities that they would not survive.

“Taking an additional 450Gl of water out of the consumptive pool could be disastrous for regional communities and we cannot allow the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to keep forging blindly ahead without a solid understanding of the reality on the ground,” Ms Sheed said.

Even the environmentally-focused Wentworth Group of scientists has questioned whether the water transferred to the environment has had sufficient impact.

“While there is no evidence yet that water recovered to date has led to an overall improvement in the river system, there have been local improvements …’’ a report from the group said this year.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle said the Blackmore Report, commissioned by the Victorian and NSW governments, and a CSIRO report on SDL adjustment mechanism monitoring raised serious concerns.

Mr Pyle pointed to a key recommendation from the Blackmore Report which stated, under the heading ‘Better science and adaptive management’: “The panel also recommended that a co-ordinated approach to system performance management should be established.

“This should focus on achieving quantifiable basin plan ecological objectives using adaptive management and ongoing development of scientific knowledge.’’

“How could we possibly be five years into the basin plan and not already have a co-ordinated approach?” Mr Pyle asked.

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