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.
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.
Read the Guardian story about the court case.