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River report “redundant”

Tuesday, 19th July, 2011

A recent report into the social impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been dismissed as “redundant” by the Darling River Action Group (DRAG).

The report examines the effect large scale water buybacks would have on small farming communities.

It was commissioned after an angry backlash by irrigators and rural communities to the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) guide to the Plan, which was released last year.

DRAG Chairman Mark Hutton said the report provided little fresh information, and was ill-timed given that a revised guide to the Plan is set to be released at the end of the month.

“It’s basically redundant as it’s brought out. It’s rehashing stuff that’s already been done,” he said.

The report states that returning significant amounts of water to the river system would have a negative impact on small farming communities in the Basin, but Mr Hutton said this information was nothing new.

While he acknowledged that returning the Basin to its former health could impact on “smaller, less efficient irrigators”, Mr Hutton stressed that a healthy river system would benefit the broader agriculture industry in the long run.

“It states the blatantly obvious that there will be impacts to smaller regional farming communities, but over the whole region there will be very minimal effects over the community.

“What you’ve got to look at is the big picture; if you look at the small amount of pain, it will be worth the significant gains of a healthy river system, which will come from better flows.

“You’ll have better quality water for irrigators, and more security as there is more water in the system for longer.

“A robust Murray Darling Basin Plan will be good for irrigators as well as the wider community.”

The MDBA’s admission of a “profound” impact on smaller communities could be viewed as the body bowing to pressure from irrigators, and Mr Hutton said he wasn’t confident that the MDBA would stick to its original plan of returning up to 4000 gigalitres to the Basin.

“The number could be 2500 to 7600 gigalitres; there’s rumours flying around that it could be higher or lower, but we’d like to see a minimum of 4000.

“I’m expecting 2800 gigalitres, which will leave the river system in a very poor state of health.”

Mr Hutton said the MDBA had an obligation under the Water Act 2007 to return the Basin to good health, and a failure to do so could result in a legal stoush with environmental groups.

“The Act states that they have to bring the rivers back to environmental health, and if the Plan doesn’t do that it will likely end up in court and be a fight for the next five or six years which won’t be any good for anybody,” he said.

“If they go by the science they’ll return 4000 gigalitres to the system. If they go by the politics, they’ll only return 2,800.”

A full copy of the MDBA’s social impact report can be found at mdba.gov.au.


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