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Murray announcement premature



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Friday, 26 October 2012

MURRAY ANNOUNCEMENT PREMATURE

The Nationals Federal Member for Mallee John Forrest has warned the devil will be in the detail of a revamped Murray Darling Basin Plan target announced yesterday that still has to be endorsed by Federal Parliament.

“We’ve seen these highly publicised ALP announcements before and seen no action,” Mr Forrest said.

“What has been announced so far is not a plan, it is an aspirational water quantum.

“What a plan says is we are going to construct automatic gates on the Barrages to maintain water levels in the Lower Lakes, build a new weir at Wellington, deliver good engineering at Hattah Lakes, the Barmah Forest and Menindee Lakes, and construct a new dam in the headwaters of the Murray River.

“A plan would stipulate how existing water from irrigators would be used so we don’t need more water - that would be a plan.

“In addition we can implement a comprehensive cloud seeding program like Snowy Hydro has been trialling. Those are real plans.”

Mr Forrest said there was one ALP Basin announcement in 2010 that got blaring headlines and no action.

“So we await the detail of this 2012 version with absolute cynicism.

“If the Murray Darling Basin Authority cannot deliver a Basin Plan supported by all State Ministers, then we will have no option but to revert to the current shared management of the Murray Darling Basin without a Basin Plan,” Mr Forrest said.

“It is critical that the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the responsible Minister listen to the Basin States and their water Ministers because of the potential impacts on food security and the economic and social impacts on river communities.

“Current broad-brush Basin Plan modelling of the economic and social impacts on river communities must be re-designed to ensure detailed information for each individual town.

“Water bureaucrats think they know best and that the wisdom of basin communities can be ignored.

“I am not satisfied that the current Basin Plan balances the needs of the environment, food production and river communities.

“Water Minister Burke should reaffirm his support for the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s recommendation of 2750Gl of environmental outcomes as agreed in the 9 July 2012 Ministerial Communique.”

All states and the Commonwealth have previously given support to the MDBA’s recommendation of 2750Gl contingent on an appropriate sustainable diversion limit mechanism.

“This sustainable diversion mechanism must be agreed and apply before the Basin Plan is finalised to ensure irrigation water is not stripped from agriculture and rural communities in a bid for greater environmental outcomes.”

Mr Forrest said one of the big mistakes made in previous years was separating water entitlements from the land without considering and addressing the fact that every sleeper licence would be activated and that excess water to irrigator needs would be sold instead of defaulting to the environment.

“Future water buy-backs must be accompanied by irrigation district upgrades.

Taking more water such as the 3200Gl floated in October as South Australia’s preferred option and announced again today was, on the face of it, unacceptable to Victorians.

“The Commonwealth gave South Australia $328 million towards a desalination plant so it could reduce its reliance on the Murray River.

“If South Australia wants better environmental outcomes they had best use that desalination plant to save drawing the water they need from the river.

“South Australia pumps Murray water to Ceduna, more than half way to Western Australia.”

Mr Forrest said the environment, irrigators and river communities would all benefit from another Murray storage so environmental and carry-over water can be held until the optimum release time.

“As one of my irrigators Danny Lee said, you don’t have to destroy us (irrigators) to keep the environment,” Mr Forrest said.

“He suggests the solution is to conserve, create, recycle and re-distribute water. And he says there are engineering solutions that can keep the food/productive sector exactly like it is and still make sure that the environment is as good as it can be.

“I mention Danny because I worry that the logical thinking of people involved with water every day of the year are often ignored by those on the government payroll who think they know better.

“My irrigators need certainty because their crops are often permanent plantings that can take years to get into full production.”

Mr Forrest said a lot of the environmental angst in the Murray Darling Basin was in regard the Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth.

“We need a proper engineering solution down there with the Barrages and a new weir at Wellington to go with engineering solutions upstream to reduce the impacts of changed river use that has occurred since Federation.

“Money that might have been used for good engineering outcomes has been wasted.

“Buying water, with much political fanfare, ephemeral water at Toorale Station on the Darling River near Bourke, is a good example.

“While there is a need for more science, particularly in the way we use environmental water, it will be good engineering that will be the main driver in resolving this economic, social and environmental conflict that Murray Darling Basin management has become,” Mr Forrest said.