Murray Darling Basin - Plan to reallocate water to the environment

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Following floods and disasters, 2011 promises to be an interesting year for water planning in Australia. What is needed now is strong and evenhanded political leadership to take greater account of rural communities and their social and economic needs, without losing the opportunity to use the scientific basis established to date to restore some of the damaged ecosystems. A powerful, yet controversial, act will empower this process in Australia’s largest transboundary water basin.

Under the Australian constitution, responsibility for water management resides with the country’s six state governments. Prior to 2007, the Australian federal government had a coordinating and leadership role, particularly in transboundary systems such as the Great Artesian Basin and the Murray Darling Basin (MDB). The latter system is Australia’s most productive agricultural region, producing 36 per cent of the country’s total value of irrigated production in 2008–09. Entitlements to divert surface water for consumptive use within the Basin now amount to 11,000 Giga-litres (Gl), more than one third of the Basin’s runoff of 31,800 Gl per annum. As a consequence, the average flow out of the mouth of the Murray River has dropped to 41 per cent of historic flows.

This development has come at an environmental cost. The MDB contains some of the country’s most diverse and rich natural ecosystems including a world heritage site and 30,000 wetlands (of which 16 are Ramsar listed) that provide habitat for 95 threatened fauna that are listed in the federal environmental legislation. Successive reports over 20 years had concluded that parts of the Basin, particularly in the rivers serving the irrigation districts of the southern basin, were in poor and declining environmental health. In the most recent report, 20 out of the Basin’s 23 catchments were rated as being in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ health.

Customer comments

  1. By Rachel Emmes on

    How can a government with such a poor history be trusted to take care of such an important asset? It's overtime for political reform as described in the book at www.aussieswannakiss.com sign the petition for change.

  2. By Rachel Emmes on

    How can a government with such a poor history be trusted to take care of such an important asset? It's overtime for political reform as described in the book at www.aussieswannakiss.com sign the petition for change.