Saturday, 9 October 2010

View of the Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan…from the Redgum Campaign Front

Hi folks,
knocked this up in the airport - a quick look at what the Guide says and what's wrong with it. Unfortunately ACF have already given qualified support for the 4000GL target but other greenies are sort-of holding the line. Will put it in an ebulletin on Sunday but thought you'd appreciate an earlier reportback.
How much water do we need for a healthy Basin?
The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has released its much awaited Guide to the Basin Plan, a draft proposal for the restoring the Murray-Darling Basin to ecological balance. According to the Guide we must return 7,600 billion litres of water to the rivers, lakes and wetlands of the Basin if we want a healthy environment.

Irrigation lobbyists the National Irrigators Council and National Farmers Federation attacked the Guide but shied away from offering an alternative proposal.

The MDBA have been tasked with coming up with a Basin Plan that sets a sustainable limit on how much water can be extracted from Basin rivers, and lays out a plan for returning water to our parched rivers and wetlands. The Plan will be finalised by the end of next year, with water being restored to the environment from 2014.

In the Guide we have the first glimpse of the MDBA’s thinking on how much water is needed and where. Environmentalists, Traditional Owners and farming communities have been awaiting this moment and none left today’s briefing with everything they wanted.

Despite determining that another 7,600 billion litres is what the environment really needs, the MDBA immediately dismissed this as coming with too higher cost to farming communities. Instead, a range of 3,000 to 4,000 has been considered, despite the fact that this does not guarantee that environmental outcomes will be delivered.

For example, if 4,000 billion litres per year were restored we would lose up to 25% of our remaining red gum forests. Given that over 80% of them have already been cleared, we cannot afford to lose a quarter of what’s left.

There are many other areas for improvement in the Guide, including:
  • Dealing with the impact of mines on groundwater – whilst the Guide acknowledges that mining – particularly coal seam gas extraction in the Northern Basin  - is seriously impacting groundwater reserves, this is yet to be quantified or catered for in sustainable water extraction limits
  •  Recognising cultural flows - no attempt has been made to deal with Indigenous water rights or assess the cultural and environmental water needs of Traditional Owners.
  • Accounting for how logging reduces water runoff – despite recognising that plantations have a significant impact on water yields, the Guide makes no mention of the widely documented impact of native forest logging on catchment runoff.
  • Managing environmental water for the environment – the Guide asserts that 19,100 billion litres is currently provided to the Basin environment. What it doesn’t say is that a huge proportion of this is not managed for an environmental benefit, but just to keep the irrigation system running. For example, in NSW almost all recognised environmental water (some 9,000 billion litres state-wide) is simply what is lost to evaporation or left over after irrigation entitlements are delivered.
  • In somewhat Orwellian terms, this is called “planned environmental water,” yet little or no attempt is made to ensure it is released at a time or location that will actually benefit the environment. Because the rivers are run for the benefit of irrigation, this 'environmental water' is often delivered at the wrong time of year or the wrong location to actually benefit native species. The same situation exists across the border in Victoria, where only 6% of ‘environmental water’ is managed explicitly for environmental outcomes.
The Guide is only a first step in developing the Basin Plan, and despite its flaws, some good progress has been made. We now have a basin-wide target to discuss and analyse, and it is now clearer than ever that significant cuts to water extraction are urgently needed.

The [Barmah Campaign] Collective will be analysing the Guide in preparation for making a detailed submission early next year when the Draft Basin Plan is released, however the MDBA have already opened a preliminary submission period and we encourage you to have your say.

Jonathan La Nauze
Red Gum Campaign Coordinator
Friends of the Earth Melbourne
PO Box 222
Fitzroy Vic 3065
Ph:  +61 3 9419 8700 - Extension 21
Fax: +61 3 9416 2081
Mob: +61 402 904 251
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