Can the Murray-Darling Basin Plan deliver on its promises?

Posted 28 June 2017

Murray RiverA new report has found that provisions for vulnerable ecosystems under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) are at risk unless the Federal Government recommences water buybacks

The report, compiled by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists (WGCS), stated that the $7.1 billion spent since 2007 on implementing the MDBP would be wasted unless minimum environmental flows were met. 

Even the full target of 3200GL would not be enough to ensure the Murray mouth flowed without the use of dredging in non-flood years, said lead author of the report and Australian National University Associate Professor Jamie Pittock.

“[The target] has a very high risk of failure for achieving the environmental benefits that the plan was supposed to provide,” he said. 

“Less than 3200GL is asking to repeat this whole exercise in five or 10 years when the next big drought hits.”

The Wentworth Group is calling for at least 10% of the remaining $5.9 billion budget to be used for regional development projects to reduce the reliance of struggling communities on irrigation water. 

Pittock said the bulk of the money had so far been spent on “pouring concrete for irrigators”, which has failed to help struggling small businesses in irrigation towns, with less than 1% having been spent on the broader community. 

New South Wales has decreased the maximum permitted water release through the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai by 60% to 30ML a day, and Victoria has decreased releases in the Goulburn River below Shepparton by more than 60% to 25ML a day. 

“By chopping off environmental river flows, the states are effectively condemning huge tracts of South Australia to be salinated wastelands,” Pittock said. 

However, the final 450GL of water that makes up the target of 3200GL is still subject to socioeconomic assessment, said Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce. 

“If recovering that water was deemed to hurt farming communities, then under the Water Act it would not be recovered,” Joyce said.