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Water Management Killing the Darling-Baaka

25 October 2022

 

Water Management Killing the Darling-Baaka

 

New research published by the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A confirms that it is the over extraction and mismanagement of water that is causing most of the damage to the Darling-Baaka River, not climate change.[1]

NSW Nature Conservation Council calls for the Federal Water Minister to stand firm on the timelines for water recovery in the Basin Plan, and restore the voluntary, open tender water buy back process.

Quotes attributable to Jacqui Mumford, CEO of NSW Nature Conservation Council:

“Report after inquiry after scandal has proven what river communities know - that too much water is taken from the Darling-Baaka and its tributaries.”

“Only real water can restore the wetlands and aquifers of the Basin, that is the only defense the rivers have against the worsening droughts we know are coming.”

“The horror of the Menindee fish kills in 2019 shocked the world. Australia has the laws to protect rivers from these catastrophic events, we just need strong politicians to implement the laws as they were intended.”

“There is a lot of work to do in NSW before the public can have any trust in water management, where reports of large-scale water theft continue to surface.”

“The floodplain harvesting regulations proposed by the NSW government are so unacceptable to the public that they have been disallowed in the Upper House a record four times.”

“While its clear climate change is here, and droughts and floods will continue to become more extreme, it is critical that less water be taken from the rivers so they, and the people who rely on them, have a chance.”

 

 

[1] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2021.0296


Encouraging signs of progress on Murray Darling Basin Plan but we can’t afford further delays

In response to today’s Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MINCO) meeting hosted by the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek – Environment Victoria, NSW Conservation Council and Conservation Council SA responded:  

Jono La Nauze, CEO of Environment Victoria, said: 

“We are encouraged that Minister Plibersek has reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment to recovering the 450 GL but it is concerning that she has left the door open to further delays. Taking longer to recover environmental water increases the risk of mass fish kills and toxic algal blooms. 

“Victoria and NSW never intended to give the Murray-Darling the water it needs so they cooked up the world’s first water offset program then proceeded to sit on their hands. It appears to be little more than a delay tactic 

“It is the environment that bears the cost of delayed water recovery. We may be in El Nina now but the next drought is just around the corner. If we haven’t recovered enough water by then, the outcomes could be catastrophic for our rivers and native fish populations.” 

We further welcome the commitment to working more closely with Indigenous communities to deliver meaningful First Nations water rights and the renewed commitment to the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program.“ 

Jacqui Mumford, CEO of Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said: 

“We are grateful to have a new Federal Minister who is committed to delivering the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full. We encourage her to stick to the Plan’s deadlines. 

“If NSW hadn’t delivered the goods after a decade, they were never going to. 

“It’s time to drop the fanciful engineering projects that were designed to fail, and buy back actual water for the rivers. 

“Too much time has already been wasted. The next drought is getting closer every day, and only real water will help rivers and wetlands survive. 

“We all need the rivers and wetlands of the Basin to be healthy, including the irrigation industry.” 

Craig Wilkins, Chief Executive, Conservation Council of SA, said: 

“We are coming to the pointy end of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and there is a huge amount left to be done. 

“South Australians are genuinely concerned the bottom end of the River will again be dudded by delays and a lack of commitment by all Basin states to the 2024 deadline. 

“We strongly welcome Minister Plibersek’s commitment to keep all options on the table to deliver real water to the river in line with the original plan, including voluntary buybacks, to make up the difference if the other parts of the plan fall short. 

“We also applaud the crystal clear position of the SA Government and Water Minister Susan Close, and her withdrawal of support for the controversial 2018 ‘socio-economic test’ that has made it much harder for all states to deliver efficiency and constraints management projects.” 


Government’s answer to Floodplain Harvesting report bitter pill for the Darling-Baaka River

The Water Minister Kevin Anderson has today confirmed, with its release of a response to the Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry Report, that the Government is intent on continuing to ignore community outcry.

“In recent years we have seen horrific fish kills and rapidly shrinking Ramsar wetlands, in part because too much water has been taken from floodplains,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Everyone agrees that floodplain harvesting must be licenced and reduced, but the way the NSW government wants to do it runs the risk of locking in ecological collapse.” 

Despite the widespread concerns of the community in the Basin, the Minister has made no concessions to the needs of the environment, First Nations and water users downstream.

“The deal that the government is offering the community in terms of flow targets would be just enough to keep a few puddles wet in the bottom of the river after a drought. The river needs enough water so it can support aquatic life, and a few puddles can’t do that,” Mr. Gambian said.

Under the current proposed licencing regime, there would be no reduction of floodplain harvesting in the Macquarie Valley upstream of the Macquarie Marshes.

“How is the NSW government reconciling their legal responsibility to protect the iconic Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes with their plans to licence all of the existing floodplain harvesting diversions in this catchment?” 

In their report the government admits that the current level of floodplain harvesting diversions is harming the environment and negatively impacting communities and water users downstream.

“Despite knowing the impacts, the government are willing to licence large volumes of floodplain harvesting before ensuring that the water being taken can be accurately measured. That shifts a massive amount of water away from the environment and communities to big irrigation agribusiness.”


Labor revives the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to revive rivers

JOINT STATEMENT: Nature Conservation Council of NSW | Environment Victoria | Conservation South Australia



State conservation councils today congratulated Labor on its five-point plan to revive the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying it was a refreshing change after years of the Coalition seeking to undermine and destroy the plan.
 

"Labor's announcement and five-point plan is an important step towards putting the vitally important Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track and restoring integrity to water management,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

"It’s so refreshing to see steps towards reviving our rivers after years of the Coalition undermining and destroying the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the benefit of a handful of big irrigation concerns. 

“The commitment to deliver 450 gigalitres of water is vital if we are to meet the targets of the plan, which, according to the science, is a bare minimum needed to save rivers, wetlands and sustain river communities. 

“Re-establishing the National Water Commission, publishing data and modelling, investing in science, and increasing compliance funding are all vital to restoring public confidence in water management after years of scandal and secrecy.  

“The commitment to increase First Nations' water ownership is long overdue and would rectify a broken promise made by the current government and deliver some justice for historical wrongs. 

“The review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will occur over the next term of federal government. Today, Labor signalled it has a holistic vision for a healthy river system." 

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said: “The public needs to know whether the Coalition’s water policy will continue to be dominated by the National Party whose track record has been to undermine the integrity of the plan at every opportunity, leaving a stench of mismanagement and corruption. 

“Australians who care about the health of our rivers are saying 'bravo' today, as Labor takes an important first step towards reviving our rivers and river communities."


Taxpayers fork out for most expensive water ever

The Federal Government today committed Australian taxpayers to effectively pay a record $20,000 per megalitre to recover water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. [1] 

Federal Environment Minister Keith Pitt has announced the government will allocate $126 million for water efficiency infrastructure to recover possibly just 7.4 gigalitres of water, with only 6.3 gigalitres to be returned to the environment 

“That means every megalitre of water saved will cost taxpayers $20,076,” Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“That’s almost eight times the most recent price paid for the permanent trade of general security access to water on the open market in the Murrumbidgee. [2] By some estimates, this is the most expensive water yet in Murray-Darling River system. 

“It’s a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money. There are far cheaper and more effective ways to meet the targets of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.   

“If all water cost this much, the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin fund would only buy 647.5 GL, about 20 per cent the 3,200 gigalitres required to be recovered under the Basin Plan. 

“And where is the government’s cost-benefit analysis to show value for money? Or how about its water recovery calculations? 

“Water buy-backs are a far cheaper way to achieve the same result, and the result is more certain than forecast gains from water efficiency measures, which are highly uncertain.” [3] 

Ms Mumford asked why the Morrison Government was giving irrigators 1,100 megalitres under this arrangement, rather than returning that water to the environment to restore natural river flows. 

“With climate change making less water available, such large sums should be used to diversify regional economies rather than subsidise already planned works of private irrigation schemes,” Ms Mumford said 

“Reports show that each dollar spent on human services like hospitals and schools creates four times as many jobs as spending on infrastructure upgrades.”  [4] 

REFERENCES 

[1] Murrumbidgee Irrigation says $126 million grant will allow it halve its water losses, ABC, 18-1-21.  

[2] See Key Water, Last Trades.  

[3] On the permanent trade market, it would cost $2,450/ML to by water access on the Murrumbidgee. See Key Water, Last Trades. 

[4] Modelling variants of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the context of adverse conditions in the Basin, Glyn Wittwer Centre of Policy Studies, Victoria University, March 2020. 

 


Labor and the crossbenchers key to overturning reckless floodplain water regulations

Labor and the crossbenchers should disallow the ecologically unsustainable and socially inequitable floodplain harvesting regulations that outgoing Water Minister Melinda Pavey rushed through last Friday. [1]   

“These rotten regulations, virtually Ms Pavey’s last act as Water Minister, will leave a wretched legacy if they are allowed to stand,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“Ms Pavey promised to listen to river communities and to carefully consider the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into floodplain harvesting. She did neither. 

“The regulations gazetted on Friday are virtually identical to those rejected twice by the parliament already this year. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. They must not stand. 

“We call on Labor and the crossbenchers to stay true to the principles of ecological sustainability and social justice to which they referred when they disallowed the regulations twice before. 

“The government doesn’t even know how much water is being taken and what effect that level of unauthorised take is having on downstream users and the environment.  

“But rather than wait and use the most up-to-date data, the government has recklessly rushed to issue billions of litres of new water licences that benefit a very small number of landholders.” 


What is floodplain harvesting?


CLEAN, GREEN AND LOCAL NSW 2021

Priorities for nature and climate in the 2021 local government elections  



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Sign up to campaign in your local area!

BUSHLAND, GREEN SPACE AND TREES

Set ambitious targets for bushland and urban tree canopy cover

  • Set targets for urban trees and urban tree canopy cover. If a target already exists, review it.[1] Develop a plan to achieve the target.
  • Set a target for bushland cover. If a target already exists, review it. Develop a plan to achieve the target. Protect and restore remnant bushland, revegetate, protect significant trees
  • Enhance protections for remnant bushland and trees through Local Environment Plans and

Development Control Plans.

  • Invest more in bushland restoration through the control of weeds and feral animals.
  • Oppose removal of bushland and significant trees to enable development.[2]
  • When planning and executing bushfire hazard reduction measures, use the latest scientific advice to minimise environmental impacts.

Ensure a koala-friendly council

  • Pass the Nature Conservation Council’s Koala Friendly Council motion (available at https://www.nature.org.au/koala_friendly_councils)

Create wildlife corridors

  • Identify potential wildlife corridors to link significant wildlife habitat remnants.
  • Invest in tree planting, revegetation and ongoing maintenance for these corridors.

Encourage use of native plants

  • Use more native plants in council parks and gardens.
  • Provide free native plants to home gardeners.

 

CLIMATE AND ENERGY

Clean up council operations

Set a target of net-zero emissions for all council operations by 2025 by:

  • Using 100% clean electricity for all council operations.
  • Making all council vehicles, including garbage trucks, electric.

Clean up local transport

  • Accelerate the installation of rapid charge electric vehicle stations by working with the local community, businesses and state governments.
  • Enhance active transport infrastructure by building and maintaining more and higher quality bike paths and footpaths.

Help locals, businesses and organisations slash their emissions

  • Create and implement a local-emissions reductions plans with clear targets.
  • Set ambitious energy performance standards for all new developments.

Support national and international movements to reduce emissions

  • Adopt the Climate Emergency Declaration, which is already supported by more than 2000 councils across 34 countries.[3]
  • Sign up to the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership, Australia’s largest local government climate network, made up of over 145 councils from across the country, representing over half of the Australian population.[4]

 

WATER CONSERVATION

Ensure a diverse and drought-resilient water system

  • Oppose the construction of new dams or other rainfall dependent water sources.
  • Invest in system-wide water efficiency.
  • Investigate stormwater harvesting and recycling.
  • Investigate the use of purified recycled water.

Reduce water waste

  • Encourage water saving in households with education and water saving devices.
  • Investigate current water wastage across the LGA and implement ways to reduce waste.
  • Subsidise rainwater tanks for residential use across the LGA.

Restore our rivers and waterways

  • Restore natural wetlands for benefits including stormwater management.
  • Set ambitious targets to improve the health of all rivers within the LGA.
  • Invest in the active restoration of riparian zone vegetation.

 

Sign up to campaign in your local area!

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] The NSW Government has pledged to plant 1 million trees in Greater Sydney by 2022 and 5 million by 2030. It also wants to increase tree canopy cover in Greater Sydney from 16% to 40% by 2030. See Total Environment Centre and NSW Government.

[2] If a project is considered critical infrastructure, apply best-practice approaches to offsetting. First, try to avoid impacts entirely. Second, if impacts are unavoidable, minimise them by modifying the proposal. Third, as a last resort, offset the impacts by restoring and permanently protecting similar habitat nearby.

[3] https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/climate-emergency-declarations-cover-15-million-citizens/

[4] https://citiespowerpartnership.org.au/


Updates on water court case

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW has commenced a world-first legal action to protect rivers and wetlands.

The case being brought in the NSW Land & Environment Court seeks to ensure that future climate change is taken into account when decisions about water sharing plans are being made. 

To keep up to date on the progress of this court case, please fill in the form.

Visit the main page on the water & climate court case.

 

Help fund this important court case

 

 

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Water & Climate Court Case

The Nature Conservation Council has commenced a world-first legal action to protect rivers and wetlands.

The case being brought in the NSW Land & Environment Court seeks to ensure future climate change is taken into account when decisions about water sharing plans are being made.

Help fund this important court case

Receive updates on the court case

Scientific modelling suggests rain and runoff in the Murray-Darling Basin will declined, that patterns of rainfall will change, and droughts will become more severe. The last severe drought, which followed soon after the Millennium Drought, saw record low inflows into many dams. 

Making decisions on water without taking future climate change into account is foolhardy and has serious consequences for environmental health and water sharing within the catchment and for floodplains and downstream rivers, wetlands and communities. 

It results in too much water being given to irrigators and too little being left for the environment and communities. Dams will empty too fast, dangerously depleting vital drought reserves. 

If our legal action succeeds, decision makers will have to start taking climate change into account when setting catchment-wide extraction limits and environmental flow rules. 

This is the first time in the world a catchment-wide water sharing instrument has been challenged on the grounds that fails to address the future impacts of climate change. 

This could mean more water for fragile ecosystems across the Murray-Darling Basin and in turn healthier river systems and greater water security for downstream communities.

Our children and future generations deserve to enjoy and benefit from a healthy, functioning river systems.

We will argue in court the NSW Water Minister breached the Water Management Act 2000 by failing to take climate change impacts into account in relation to the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan. We will also argue the Environment Minister breached the Act by giving his concurrence to that plan. 

The Nature Conservation Council is represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and Brett Walker SC. 

Climate change is not some abstract phenomenon that may occur in the distant future. River communities in NSW are bearing the brunt of that change every day, right now. 

Just 18 months ago, many towns in western NSW were entirely dependent of bores or truck deliveries for their water supplies. 

The Menindee Lakes until recently were a dustbowl and the Macquarie Marshes and other wetlands across the state are on the brink of ecological collapse. 

This is a challenge for public administrators right now, and we believe the NSW Government has failed in its duty to meet that challenge. 

Healthy rivers must be our top priority because they are the lifeblood of communities and ecosystems everywhere, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin. 

It is not just prudent for governments to factor in the impacts of climate change, it is a legal requirement that we are seeking to uphold by taking this action. 

We wish it was not necessary, but when public officials fail to uphold our environmental laws, we have no choice but to act. 

Help fund this important court case

Receive updates on the court case

Read the media release from the Environmental Defenders Office.

Read the Guardian story about the court case.