Councils blast basin plan outcomes

By Geoff Adams

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is not delivering fair outcomes and Victorian communities have lost patience, according to a group of Murray River councils.The Murray River Group  supports the basin plan but is calling for fairer implementation to address issues in the northern basin and at the end of the system to spread the burden."Northern Victorian irrigation communities are suffering from the impact of providing around 800Gl of water for the environment under the basin plan and many now question whether it has been worth the pain,'' the group said.Murray River Group chair Lorraine Learmonth spoke about the frustration in irrigation communities.

“We all want a healthy and resilient environment in the basin, supporting thriving productive communities and we have been told that thebasin plan will provide that,” Cr Learmonth said.“Well, frankly, tell that to the dozens of dairy farmers who have been forced to sell up this year.

"They’ll point to the northern basin, where there is allocation despite the drought, and to the Lower Lakes that are still freshwater, and they’ll ask: 'is this the same basin plan?' How is this fair?

"Victorian irrigators have done everything the plan has asked of them. They are more efficient than ever, they have water trading, they are highly regulated, metered and monitored and they have given up productive water on some of the best soils in the basin,'' Cr Learmonth said.

“Our communities understand that this is for the long-term benefit of the environment but we look at the wreck of the Darling River and the huge impact on those communities to deliver water that just ends up evaporating or flowing out to sea; well you can understand why people are angry.“The Murray River Group has consistently supported the basin plan. For now, we continue to support it because we think that it is still our best chance of achieving a sustainable basin but it must be implemented in a fairer and more balanced way.

“That means fixing the mess in the northern basin so that life flows back into the Darling."Cr Learmonth said floodplain harvesting had to be brought under control and the over-extraction issues must be addressed.

She said it was clear now that the Barwon-Darling water sharing rules changed just prior to the basin plan in 2012, had reduced the resilience of the Lower Darling and needed to be changed.

“It also means having a new look at what longer term environmental outcomes can be achieved for the Lower Lakes and the Coorong and what the best way of achieving that is.

“What price is too high to keep the Lower Lakes as freshwater and the Murray Mouth open?

"Is it okay to destroy dairy in the GMID? What about horticulture? What about our RAMSAR wetlands at Gunbower and Barmah?

"Should we sacrifice them by pushing water down the Murray in summer that mostly just evaporates off Lake Alexandrina? How is that fair?”

Cr Learmonth said the basin plan remained the best hope for a long term solution to "the sustainability of our environment and our communities across the basin but it must be implemented in a fair and balanced way and we are running out of time to get that balance right".

"We call on Minister Littleproud and the Ministerial Council to show strong leadership to fix the implementation of the basin plan before it is too late.

"Fix the northern basin to restore the Lower Darling and revisit what can realistically be achieved at the end of the system with the water we have.''

The Murray River Group comprises six councils in northern Victoria: Mildura, Swan Hill, Loddon, Gannawarra, Campaspe and Moira.