Murray-Darling water plan will fail without urgent action, report warns

There has been no overall improvement in the health of Australia's biggest river system after five years of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP), according to a new report by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

The report calls on state and federal governments who jointly manage the MDBP to commit to a one-third increase in current environmental flows to 3,200 gigalitres.

The MDBP targets a minimum 2,750 gigalitres, with another 450 gigalitres on top of that dependent on proof that there would be no adverse socio-economic impact on rural communities.

“Even when the 3200 (gigalitre per year) or equivalent outcomes is delivered in full, it will not be possible to achieve the Basin Plan target of maintaining an open Murray mouth in 95 per cent of years without continued dredging of the mouth, except during flood events,” the report says.

It outlines necessary actions including more transparency, better preparations for a future with less water, ensuring enough water gets to the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and the Murray Mouth to flush out salt, and guaranteeing that the full 3200GL of water is returned to the system.

“Rivers need water and ‘complementary measures’ such as carp herpes virus, are not a substitute for real water,” the report argues, referring to a plan to improve outcomes by killing the fish with herpes.

The Wentworth Group is calling for at least 10% of the $5.9bn remaining of the original $13bn investment pledged by the Howard government to go towards regional development projects to help struggling communities reduce their reliance on irrigation water.

The Group also wants water to be made a permanent item on the agenda of Council of Australian Governments meetings and for the federal government to require stricter compliance from NSW and Victoria, which are both limiting environmental releases in key river systems.

NSW has limited the maximum permitted water release through the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai from 50ML per day to 30ML a day, and Victoria has limited releases in the Goulburn river below Shepparton from 40ML a day to 25ML a day. The effect of both caps is that water remains in the river banks rather than spreading on to floodplains, which prevents the system from flushing further downstream.

The full report is available here

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