The complexities of water policy have again been highlighted, with a decision by the NSW Government to withdraw seven water resource plans.
However, while attempts to ensure delivery of appropriate plans is to be applauded, it is vital that their withdrawal does not lead to shortcuts and seeking the easiest solutions, according to the community-based Speak Up Campaign.
Throughout implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the quickest and easiest way to recover water has been from the Southern Basin, primarily through water buybacks. But the easiest way is also the worst, in terms of damage to the environment, as well as to the social and economic fabric of communities, said Speak Up Deputy Chair Lloyd Polkinghorne.
He also highlighted that the emphasis on delivering the Basin Plan ‘in full and on time’ was flawed in many ways, and this needs to be accepted, especially at federal level.
“Tell me a major infrastructure project that does not suffer delays?” Mr Polkinghorne asked. “Snowy 2.0 is well behind schedule, and so are numerous projects throughout the nation. These delays are accepted, yet the Albanese Government, like other federal governments before it, has an unhealthy fixation with insisting there are no delays to the Basin Plan.
“Why are we prepared to make a total mess of such a huge undertaking as the Basin Plan, purely to achieve a deadline that was set more than a decade ago. That is not good policy and not good government,” Mr Polkinghorne said.
In relation to delays in the NSW water sharing plans, he said like other aspects of the Basin Plan and water management the priority should be getting them right. He added the plans with the most challenges were in the Northern Basin, which have been labelled as ‘inadequate’ by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and were at risk of being rejected.
“It is important to resolve the issues with the Northern Basin to ensure it contributes an acceptable share to the Basin Plan water targets, and ensuring floodplain harvesting issues are resolved is an important part of this jigsaw,” Mr Polkinghorne said. “The Southern Basin has contributed 83 per cent of the water recovered thus far under the Basin Plan, so quite obviously southern communities have done more than their share of heavy lifting. Governments must not be permitted to take more water from the Southern Basin, purely because it is an easier option.”
Mr Polkinghorne has long been concerned with the damage to the Murray River environment from trying to force too much water down Australia’s most iconic river.
“It’s easy to store water in upstream dams then try to force it down the Murray ‘channel’ – which is what it is becoming – to achieve legislated flow targets over the South Australian border. But it we continue along this path, future generations will look back in horror at the environmental damage our governments will be held responsible for.
“The obvious, common-sense approach is a moratorium on water recovery. This would allow governments and their agencies to assess the massive volumes of water recovered so far, scientifically determine the Murray River’s capacity without causing additional damage and use latest data to ensure we implement the best possible Basin Plan, not a second rate plan that suffers from the focus on deadlines.
“It’s fair to say those of us who live on the river and breathe its environment on a daily basis are in a sound position to contribute to the discussions and ensure we get the plan right. It would be a welcome change if governments would start listening to local views and solutions, instead of making decisions based on politics and unreliable computer models,” Mr Polkinghorne concluded.