Basin plan ‘hijacked’
Friday, 21st October, 2011
The impending Murray-Darling Basin Plan could allocate less water than ever to the environment and has been hijacked by irrigation interests, according to Barney Stevens.
Mr Stevens, a long-time river lobbyist and secretary of the Darling River Action Group (DRAG), said he had grave fears the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) blueprint for water allocation, the most significant national water reform document yet, will greatly reduce its original allocation for the environment.
The much-anticipated plan was to be announced early this month but the MDBA has now delayed that release to November to “get it right”.
Mr Stevens said the leaks that had slipped come through about the plan were alarming.
“The Basin Plan as it stands has been set up in a way that it is clear the irrigation community has had far too much say,” said Mr Stevens.
“And that is to the detriment of the environment and possibly to the ultimate detriment of the irrigation towns themselves.
“The draft plan released last year suggested that 3000 to 4000 gigalitres be returned to environmental flows. The latest information we have on the revised plan is that figure will be reduced to 2800 gigalitres.
“I believe the current chairman of the MDBA (Craig Knowles) has made the arbitrary decision to reduce it. He has dictated this to the Authority.”
Mr Stevens said he was disappointed that the MDBA had not used the plan as an opportunity to do something great for the entire river system.
After attending a recent meeting with the MDBA and environment groups in which the figure of 2800 was put forward, he said the unanimous view amongst scientists and lobbyists was that it was far too little to create a healthy-Murray-Darling Basin.
Mr Stevens said the consensus was that 4000 gigalitres was the minimum amount acceptable.
He said he would to continue to lobby for the environment and had recently applied to the New South Wales government to take on the position of chairman of the Lower Murray-Darling Catchment Management Authority (LMDCMA) in anticipation that the CMAs could be responsible for the regulation of water in the future.
“The main responsibility will stay with the Commonwealth Environmental Water holder but there is talk that the CMAs could take on a greater role than they have now. Currently the CMAs are set up as more land and vegetation managers.
“My aim, though, here is to strengthen the position of people other than irrigators - there’s a possibility of conflict of interest with people who hold positions on CMAs who also own very large tracts of land.”
Meanwhile the MDBA will not repeat its round of public meetings when it does release the next plan.
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The Authority’s chief executive, Rhonda Dickson, told a Senate estimates committee hearing this week that it would not hold the community consultations as it had early this year.
The MDBA has held private meetings with varied interest groups across the Basin and it might want to avoid the anger directed at it when the first guide was released, particularly in irrigation towns like Griffith and Mildura.
Ms Dickson said if people wanted to have their say before the Plan was released they could contact the MDBA.