The Murray-Darling Basin is 3,430 kilometers long and drains one-seventh of the Australian land mass. The name of the basin is derived from its two major rivers, the Murray River and the Darling River.
Senator Penny Wong, minister for climate change and water, has launched the first round of water entitlement purchasing as part of the Rudd Government's plan to restore the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.
'The River Murray and the other important rivers that make up the Basin desperately need more water,' Senator Wong said.
'We've had 11 consecutive years of dry conditions and six consecutive years of record low inflow on the Murray, yet this will be the first time the Australian government has ever directly purchased water,' Wong said. 'This is a down payment on the future of the Murray.'
Senator Wong said the dry conditions of the past 11 years had as as over-allocation issues in our rivers.
The water entitlements purchased will be held by the soon to be established Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and delivered to key environmental assets like the Chowilla Floodplain in South Australia.A public tender process began Wednesday, with the Australian Government allocating $50 million to purchase water this financial year. Senator Wong said irrigators who wish to sell water will be invited to submit offers to the government at a fair market price.
She said providing water to these sites would improve the breeding grounds for thousands of colonial waterbirds and to restore River Redgums.
'The purchased water will also help keep the Murray mouth open and protect against algal bloom outbreaks, salinity and other water quality risks that threaten the health of our rivers and livelihood of our farmers,' Wong said.
Senator Wong said the $50 million would be used only to purchase water from willing sellers.
'Farmers wanting to raise capital to make their businesses more efficient, more profitable and more resilient to drought and climate change will now have the option of selling some of their water entitlement to the government.'
Senator Wong said the announcement is an important first step in the government's plan to tackle the issues facing the Murray-Darling Basin.
'Water purchase is just one part of our plan,' she said. 'We also want to get on with the job of modernizing irrigation infrastructure and working cooperatively with other levels of government to set a new, sustainable cap on the amount of water taken from rivers in the Basin.'
The Australian government also recently invested $4.6 million in 14 irrigation water providers to identify opportunities to modernize water infrastructure and reduce water loss.
Australia's largest environmental group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, welcomed the government's announcement.
'Many of the Murray-Darling's wetlands and wildlife are on the brink of extinction, so it's encouraging to see the government putting in real dollars at a time when it is desperately needed,' said ACF's inland rivers campaigner Amy Hankinson.
'Numerous studies have shown buying water from willing sellers is the most efficient and cost-effective way to return water to the environment.
'It means when it does rain, water will flow through the rivers to flush them clean and give our wildlife a fighting chance,' said Hankinson.
'We encourage the federal government to continue purchasing water in the coming years to ensure the survival of key wetlands and rivers throughout the Murray-Darling system.'