This World Wetlands Day, the NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) is urging leaders to recognise the role of private landholders in managing wetlands, and the many success stories of collaboration, to inspire the next chapter of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
With 93% of the Murray-Darling Basin’s 30,000 wetlands on private property, partnerships with landholders are the main game to restore and protect these vital habitats,” said NSWIC CEO, Claire Miller.
“There are many great examples out across the Basin showcasing what’s possible when private landholders are supported to manage wetlands.”
Coleambally Irrigation in the Murrumbidgee Valley, for example, has delivered 33 watering events over 13 sites in the last seven years.
Similarly, Murray Irrigation Ltd has an estimated 2000 private wetlands and around 2000km of ephemeral creeks and rivers within its footprint, and has delivered more than 205 billion litres of environmental water to wetlands, ephemeral creeks and rivers since 2001.
And Murrumbidgee Irrigation has delivered more than 11 billion litres water to sites since 2015, including the Ramsar-listed Fivebough and Tuckerbil swamps.
“Irrigators delivering water to wetlands has become common practice,” said Ms Miller, “Their efforts often ensure sites are watered at times they may otherwise miss out.
Partnerships with private landholders are increasingly recognised as water management best-practice, following similar thinking in the biodiversity and conservations fields.
NSWIC is calling on Basin ministers to better support landholders to do more when ministers meet later this month to discuss the direction of the Basin Plan.
“The Plan so far has been all about recovering water from farmers,” said Ms Miller.
“With one in three litres of irrigation water now redirected to the environment on top of river flows, now we need to focus on working with our farmers to ensure that extra environmental water reaches wetlands across the landscape.
“We find almost everyone out there would be keen to do more to manage their wetlands, but are limited by a lack of resources, time, or knowledge of exactly what to do. That can all be fixed.”
“But the biggest barrier is a lack of political will, and an underestimation of the biodiversity and conservation role our farming community plays.
“We need to move beyond the simplistic ‘just add more water’ from farmers, to catchment management, and that includes working in genuine collaboration with landholders.
“What’s needed is the Basin Ministerial Council to fund a package of measures to support landholders to be part of the solution for wetlands.”
For example, funding free environmental science extension services, and even cultural knowledge, to advise farmers on managing wetlands on private property would go a long way, alongside funding for landholders to act on their recommendations.
“This is the industry’s vision to be part of the solution, and we urge Ministerial Council to share that vision too,” said Ms Miller.
“If we work together, we can form a mosaic of wetlands across the Basin that are watered with natural inundations, topped up with the existing environmental water, and managed on the ground.”
NSWIC also called for improved monitoring and evaluation of wetland inundation.
While one study concluded only 2% of wetlands are regularly watered using Commonwealth-held environmental entitlements, it did not account for watering through natural inundation, rules-based water in NSW, State-held entitlements and private landholders’ efforts – all of which ensure a much greater proportion of the Basin wetlands are cared for.
“We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” said Ms Miller. “The Murray Darling Basin Authority and other agencies must do better in understanding the true extent of wetland watering now.
To find out more success stories, see the NSWIC Working Together Campaign.