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After decades of false dawns and failed reforms, a national plan for the Murray-Darling has now been signed into law. Whilst the health of many individual streams and wetlands will improve, the final Basin Plan is so heavily biased towards vested interests that a healthy future for the whole Murray-Darling system is far from assured
We all depend on healthy rivers which are not poisoned by salt. The best protection for our farming, regional and metropolitan communities is to keep our lifeblood flowing.
The Murray-Darling needs a long-term sustainable plan to restore the Basin to a healthy condition that can be maintained for future generations. The national significance of the Murray & Darling river systems— our lifeblood — cannot be underestimated.
The rivers are a water source for Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT, and are vital to Australia’s environmental and economic prosperity
On Nov 22, 2012, a Murray-Darling Basin Plan which guarantees only 2750 billion litres of additional water to the Murray-Darling was signed into law by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.
This plan will meet only 57 per cent of river health targets set by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. It will jeopardise the health of wetlands, coolabah forests, grasslands, waterbirds, red gum and black box woodlands, native fish, frogs, turtles and ecological processes that are critical to the health of the river.
In addition, Federal Water Minister Tony Burke has begin setting up a “trust fund” to acquire an extra 450 gigalitres by 2024, acknowledging that a 57% success rate was not “environmentally ambitious” enough. The extra water will allow 65% of river health targets to be achieved and keep the world-renowned Coorong alive.
Legislation establishing the $1.8 billion trust fund is still before the parliament, but it needs to be strengthened to ensure that future governments will honour the government’s promise of an extra 450 gigalitres. This ACF analysis summarises the improvements in key rivers that 3200 billion litres of additional water can provide over the 2,750 billion litre Basin Plan.
By the last drought, decades of unsustainable water use had left the river so weak that its mouth closed over and the Coorong became five times saltier than the sea
The salty water left native flora and fauna struggling to survive and made for the ideal breeding ground for invasive tube worms, which attached themselves to the shells of native freshwater turtles. These bulky parasites weighed down many of the turtles so that the suffocated and drowned.
Conditions were tough for communities at the mouth too. Tourism was all but put on hold, dairy operations dropped by 70 per cent and more than $35 million of South Australian tax payers’ money was spent on dredging in an effort to open up the river mouth.
Floodplain grazing, recreational fishing and tourism will benefit significantly from increased environmental flows, with major cultural benefits to Indigenous Traditional Owners
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the federal government must deliver a plan that guarantees to: