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Water Bill must go further to deliver for the Darling

November 1st 2023 

Leading environmental organisations from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland will today present evidence to a Senate Committee on the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill. 

As it stands the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill would allow 450 GL of water to be purchased for the environment. However the Bill must be strengthened to guarantee that water is recovered, First Nations People have a seat at the table and that more water is available to flow down the Darling/Baaka River. 

"We are calling on members of the federal parliament to step up and guarantee real water will be returned to the rivers for the sake of communities and ecosystems across the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin,” Nature Conservation Council Water Campaigner, Mel Gray said.  

Members of the Murray Darling Basin Conservation Alliance will give evidence in the federal Senate today urging the Committee to extend the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill to ensure there is additional water for the Darling/Baaka River by:

  1. Returning water to Traditional Owners.  
  2. Reversing the Northern Basin Sustainable Diversion Limit Amendments.  
  3. Ruling out the Menindee Lakes ‘water saving’ offset project immediately and getting real water flowing down the Darling/Baaka River.  
  4. Fix or remove the old weirs that are stopping native fish from migrating.  
  5. Ensure that publicly owned environmental water is protected from pumping.  

See further details below.  

Mel Gray, Nature Conservation Council NSW Water Campaigner said today: 

“As it currently stands this Bill will not stop communities running out of water and fails to address mass fish kill events along the Darling/Baaka River.” 

“The Productivity Commission report out yesterday confirms the dodgy offset projects won’t deliver for the environment, singling out the controversial Menindee Lakes ‘water saving’ project.

“Our five point plan recommends the dodgy Menindee Lakes project be stricken off the list of offset projects and that the water promised to the environment be returned upstream of the Lakes, to get the Darling/Baaka flowing again.

“Unless we address the many loopholes and accounting tricks that have been developed for multinational cotton interests, the Darling-Baaka will not flow, more communities will run out of water, and more mass fish kills will occur.” 

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said

“We will use our opportunity at today’s Senate Committee hearing to call on the government to improve this Bill so that it delivers for people and communities of the Murray-Darling

“The Productivity Commission has clearly stated that purchasing water is by far the quickest and most effective way to obtain environmental water entitlements and that Basin governments need to publicly and transparently report how the water resources will deliver benefits for First Nations communities.

Conservation Council SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said:

“It’s critical that sides of politics remember what happened during the Millenium Drought.  It’s seared into the memory of all South Australians.

“So far, too much of the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been a series of broken promises that has failed to deliver what is required.

“The Bill currently before the Senate is the opportunity to create real water essential for a healthy river system.”

Statement ends 

Media contact: Clancy Barnard
E: [email protected]  Ph: 0438 869 332 

Note: NCC water campaigner Mel Gray is available for comment on request 

Background 

The Living Baaka Five Point Plan is a road map to rescuing the Darling/Baaka from crisis. The full recommendations are: 

  1. Return water to Traditional Owners. Aboriginal People have been denied  their enduring right to manage, own and access water on their Country. Strengthen the Restoring Our Rivers Bill and guarantee the return of water to the Traditional Owners across the whole Murray-Darling Basin.    
  2. Reverse the Northern Basin Sustainable Diversion Limit Amendments. Put the seventy billion litres of water that were stripped away back in the rivers. Increase the limits that were reduced in 2018 and immediately buyback the water in Northern Basin catchments to meet the shortfall.  
  3. Rule out the Menindee Lakes ‘water saving’ offset project immediately and get real water flowing down the Darling/Baaka River. The threat of the dodgy Menindee Lakes water saving project has been hanging over the Menindee community for more than a decade. The project aimed to physically change the shape of the natural lakes so they would hold less water. The resulting ‘saved’ water has stayed in irrigation accounts for the last decade. Irrigators have continued to pump almost two hundred billion litres of water every year that by rights belongs in the river. This water must be returned to the Darling/Baaka as soon as possible. A good place to start recovering the water would be to get rid of the most controversial water licences in the North. Some water licences (Class A and Class B) that are actively used upstream of Bourke are extremely damaging to the environment, as they allow the river to be pumped when it is low.
  4. Fix or remove the old weirs that are stopping native fish from migrating. Native fish are incredible athletes. Some will swim over two thousand kilometers to breed and feed. While nothing will ever be as important to fish as having enough water, fixing infrastructure that allows fish to swim upstream is critical to the survival of many species. 
  5. Ensure that publicly owned environmental water is protected from pumping. There must be enough water left in the rivers so they can connect to each other and be healthy. Rules must be improved so that water belonging to the river is protected from the irrigators’ pumps as it flows from the top of the Basin in Queensland to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia. Rules must also reduce how much water can be diverted from floodplains and pumped from the rivers that flow into the Darling/Baaka.

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