A study from the five-year evaluation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan shows early evidence that water for the environment contributes to the wellbeing of basin residents and visitors.
The technical report Social and economic benefits from environmental watering looked at whether basin plan implementation was bringing expected benefits to people by returning water to the environment.
MDBA acting chief economist Phil Townsend said the ecological condition of many basin rivers and wetlands had improved because of a general improvement in basin rainfall and an increase in flows for the environment.
‘‘This improved condition of rivers and wetlands in specific areas should coincide with positive changes in communities,’’ Dr Townsend said.
‘‘These community benefits are expected to include increased tourism, increased populations, better amenities and lifestyles, and benefits to industries, such as agriculture.
‘‘More than two million people now live in the basin and the population has increased by more than 90000 people in the past five years, with many new residents attracted by the lifestyle benefits on offer.
‘‘The basin’s unique natural assets are also vital to the region’s thriving tourism.
‘‘Many people may not realise that tourism is worth as much as irrigated agriculture. Expenditure by overnight visitors to the basin has increased by $1.8billion over the past five years and is now worth around $7.5billion per year.
‘‘Spending on recreational fishing is also estimated to be worth around $1billion each year, generating 10000 jobs.
‘‘Irrigated farmers see benefits through better water quality. Improved salinity dilution provides a net benefit of approximately $5million per year to river users, including producers.’’
Dr Townsend said water resources were considered the lifeblood of many communities and strong engagement with locals was key.
‘‘We know that while the recovery of water for the environment is not always well received, the majority of basin residents support the use of environmental water to improve outcomes for birds, fish and native vegetation as well as for people,’’ Dr Townsend said.
‘‘An increasingly co-operative approach for the design and delivery of environmental watering is being taken with local governments, land holders, and community and natural resource management groups.’’
More information on the evaluation and links to the technical reports can be found at https://www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan-roll-out/2017-basin-plan-evaluation