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More of the same

Tuesday, 29th May, 2012

By Erica Visser

A revised Murray-Darling Basin Plan has failed to take into account 12,000 public submissions, according to Darling River Action Group (DRAG) Secretary Barney Stevens. 

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released the new plan yesterday and despite 20 weeks of public consultation meetings, including in Broken Hill, it remained relatively unchanged.

The MDBA has stood by its original decision to return 2750 gigalitres to the river system.

It has, however, reduced the figure of ground water extraction by 1000GL following reports that the original 4340GL was “reckless”.

Mr Stevens said it would have been impossible for the authority to read through all the submission in less than five weeks.

“They seem to imply that they’ve read and digested all of them...it’s very hard to imagine,” Mr Stevens said.

“I think they’ve ignored almost all of them and the only ones they’ve taken seriously are the ones from the State Government.”

Still, each state rejected the revised plan following yesterday’s release.

“The NSW and Victorian Governments don’t want to give up water and South Australia thinks it’s not getting enough,” Mr Stevens said.

“It would be impossible to please all groups.”

Mr Stevens said that whilst he was shocked when the original Basin Plan neglected the Darling River, he was not caught off-guard this time around.

“I’m not surprised by anything now but I was surprised previously that the Darling River got such a poor deal,” Mr Stevens said.

“I’m also not surprised that they’ve taken no notice of most of the submissions.”

He put this down to political pressure from various parties, including cotton growers.

“It is largely the political pressure but if they buy 100GL of water from Murrumbidgee, a lot can get to South Australia,” Mr Stevens said.

“If they buy 100GL from the Darling River, quite a bit will be lost on the way through, that is, used by the environment.

“To keep the total number small they are taking it out of the easiest rivers.”

Mr Stevens said that the Darling River would not be worse off under the plan, but its current unsustainable condition would remain the same.

“The Darling system has a natural boom and bust cycle,” he said.

“The irrigation development has made this cycle much worse...it will be just the same as it is in recent years - still high flows and in between high flows there will be drought with almost no flows.

“It will affect people because the river will dry out, it will stop flowing first and be much worse than the natural cycle.”

NSW Farmers released a statement saying it was “bitterly disappointed” with the plan.

President Fiona Simpson said that the plan was a “political football” that failed to deliver for communities, land or water.

“The Federal Water Minister stated his preparedness to press ahead with the basin plan - with or without the support of the states. I understand his desire to deliver water reforms, but at what cost?

“If rural communities are not protected, the impacts will be felt by everyone and will include job losses, the closure of family farms and upward pressure on food prices.”

The states have six weeks to consider the plan before it is passed on to the Federal Government for acceptance or rejection.

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