High environmental flows to be looked at

By James Bennett

The Victorian and NSW governments have come together in a rare bipartisan agreement to open a new independent panel to investigate the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's high environmental flows in the southern basin.

The panel was appointed yesterday and will consist of the former Secretary of the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria Greg Wilson (chairperson), former M-DBA board member George Warne and 30-year water industry worker Campbell Fitzpatrick.

The review follows community concerns about the impacts of proposed higher flows on land, businesses and local infrastructure.

There is also a lack of clarity about the environmental benefits of these over-bank flows and understanding of how authorities will manage operational risks of delivering flows to the targeted rates.

Victorian Minister for Water Lisa Neville said there's concern higher flows had a negative impact on land.

“That’s why we’re ensuring any future decisions are informed by science and best practice,” she said.

“These experienced panel members will inform our understanding of whether removing limits to achieve higher river flows is practical, can be realistically delivered and will benefit the environment.

Victorian Minister for Water Lisa Neville has made a bipartisan agreement with the NSW government to investigate environmental flows.

The panel will assess whether the M-DBA’s existing modelling is sound enough to give communities confidence that higher flows can be delivered in real time, to properly assess and manage risks to landholders, and ensure the environmental outcomes are clear.

Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said the investigation was "long overdue" but added it "does not go far enough".

“A full and thorough investigation of the M-DBP is needed to identify the full extent of the impact it is having on irrigators, the environment and our region’s economy.

“It is clear the plan in its current form is having a negative effect on both irrigators and the environment.

“It is my hope that the review of the modelling will identify significant flaws in the current plan and lead to a full review and re-draft that delivers real benefits to irrigators through greater security of water entitlements, guarantees the 450Gl of upwater is removed from the plan, and also ensures benefits to the environment are realised throughout the entire catchment, not just in the Lower Lakes.”

A spokesperson for State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said it was a "step in the right direction"

“But with so many other issues such as carry-over, transparency in the water market, the Lower Lakes and alleged corruption in the Northern Basin, we need an overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan now.”

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said he was "fully supportive" investigating all outcomes using environmental flows.

“New South Wales and Victoria have been working together over the last few years so it is not surprising to see this collaboration,” Mr Drum said.

“I personally have very little confidence in the credibility surrounding outcomes associated with environmental flows. I think the more scrutiny we place on environmental flows, the better.

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum doesn't believe environmental flows produce credible outcomes. 

“Taking water out of productive agriculture for the sake of the environment is causing devastation to our communities.

“We need to question every drop of water that is being taken, including the science that these flow requirements are based on,” Mr Drum said.

The decision to launch a new independent panel was agreed by both governments at the Ministerial Council meeting in August.

It will report its finding to the ministers in December.

Opinion: We're all in this together

Although this decision has a bigger impact on irrigators north of the border in the southern Riverina, we must remember - we're all in this together.

It's always a positive when Victorian and NSW governments - particularly of different political parties - can join forces for the betterment of farmers and irrigators.

We welcome this decision but how many reviews, panels, commission and investigations are can we endure?

Hopefully this a major turning point for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

- James Bennett