Murray-Darling Basin governments must move #BeyondBuybacks if they are serious about tackling the greatest environmental threats in the Murray-Darling Basin.
In a new campaign launched today by the NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC), CEO Claire Miller called on ministers to move beyond the Basin Plan’s simplistic ‘just add more water’ approach.
“The focus, funding and sense of urgency must shift,” Ms Miller said. “The biggest threats include invasive species like carp, habitat degradation, blocked fish passage, and cold-water pollution.
“Buying back more water from farmers won’t fix that. The 2100 billion litres recovered under the Plan so far is delivering many environmental benefits, but if these degradation drivers are not addressed, then just adding water will only ever be tinkering around the edges.”
The #BeyondBuybacks campaign comes as the Basin Ministerial Council plans to meet early this year to progress the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“We’ve seen billions of dollars spent buying water, reducing the capacity to grow food and fibre, to survive droughts, and maintain a steady economic foundation to keep towns alive.
“Where is the same sense of urgency and funding to address the key degradation drivers?
“Over-allocation was the big issue of the early 2000s, but with 1 in 3 litres of irrigation water now permanently out of production, reducing total diversions for irrigation, towns and other industries) to just 28% of inflows, it’s time to get serious about fixing degradation drivers.”
Under NSW law, irrigators are the last in line for water, with allocations low or zero during droughts, so buying back irrigation water is not the silver bullet many think. Buybacks are also not a cheap option when community socioeconomic impacts are accounted.
“Of course, water is important but it does not stand alone,” said Ms Miller. “We need an integrated catchment management approach, rather than just a water management approach.”
In 2019, scientists recommended complementary measures, saying: “while recovering water will provide good outcomes, as a sole intervention, it is not enough to deliver the desired environmental benefits… recovering water is not enough to deliver all the anticipated environmental benefits. In a highly modified system, equal attention should be given to addressing other threats that water delivery alone cannot ameliorate.”
*** Find out more in our Beyond Buybacks campaign document [HERE].
 Lee J. Baumgartner, P Gell, J D Thiem, C Finlayson, N Ning (2019) “Ten complementary measures to assist with environmental watering programs in the Murray–Darling river system, Australia”: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/rra.3438