A CSIRO paper has again confirmed the need to look at local solutions to our river environments, rather than taking the ‘just add water’ approach.
Under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, huge volumes of water have been recovered in the name of environmental flows, but there is increasing concern about their effectiveness.
“The ‘just add water’ method of implementing the Basin Plan is causing some unintended environmental damage that needs to be acknowledged,” said Speak Up Campaign deputy chair Lloyd Polkinghorne.
He pointed to the recent CSIRO document, ‘Alien fish ascendancy and native fish extinction: ecological history and observations on the Lower Goodradigbee River’, which concluded: “The impacts of alien fish and alien fish stocking in Australia require major re-evaluation and dedicated research.” It says the Murray-Darling Basin is “heavily dominated by alien fish”.
Mr Polkinghorne said the basin has experienced the proliferation of alien fish or introduced species, especially European carp, and this has been a major contributor to the decline in native fish numbers.
“The CSIRO study showed localised extinctions and approximately 47 per cent of native fish listed on threatened species lists. We have this massive problem of native fish under threat, yet under the current objectives of the Basin Plan we are encouraging proliferation of introduced species, especially European carp, and therefore making the problem worse.
“It is frustrating for our local communities that we cannot get the bureaucracies to accept this unequivocal fact and get changes to the plan’s implementation so we are using water more efficiently.
“We do not need to recover any more water under the Basin Plan to get effective environmental results; we just need to recognise that the original plan has flaws and work towards fixing them,” he said.
He said surely the time has come for a more adaptive approach in which we use localised solutions. The Basin Plan is one of the biggest and most expensive reforms Australia has undertaken, but on its current trajectory it will be seen historically as a knee-jerk reaction to the Millennium Drought that became embroiled in political point-scoring.
“The upcoming election provides an opportunity for all sides of politics to make a concerted effort to fix this failing plan. Let’s change the focus from ‘volumes’ to ‘localised solutions’, because this is the answer to saving native fish species,” Mr Polkinghorne said.
He suggested instead of spending more billions on recovering the 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’, which is not actually needed by the environment, the money could be spent on other issues, such as controlling alien fish species, through complementary measures.
“Community groups in the mid-Murray, through the Murray Regional Strategy Group, have provided all levels of government with localised solutions to increase ecological outcomes in this region,” Mr Polkinghorne said.