Basin Plan delay risks ‘devastating consequences’ for rivers as dry spell looms

Nature Conservation Council

Peak conservation groups across south-eastern Australia are urging the federal government to stand firm on their commitment to return water to the Murray-Darling river system, warning delaying the Basin Plan would risk terrible damage to the environment during the next drought.

Environment Victoria, NSW Conservation Council, Conservation Council of SA and Queensland Conservation Council have today warned that advice from the Murray Darling Basin Authority that the 2024 deadline for the implementation of the Basin Plan will not be met puts the health of our river systems at increased risk.

Conservation Council of SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said:

“With the UN declaring an El Nino and Australia facing a dry spell, right now is the worst possible time to deprive wetlands and wildlife of the water they will need to survive tough times ahead.

“The 450 gigalitres of water that the Albanese Government promised for the environment before the election must be delivered as soon as possible. We are pleased that Minister Plibersek has today committed to delivering that required water.

“We are calling on the SA Government to stand firm, and insist on iron clad guarantees the promised water will be delivered.

“We’ve already had more than ten years of delays delivering this water promised for the environment. And look at the result – the Darling-Baaka running dry, millions of dead fish, and toxic blackwater events because small and medium floods haven’t been able to flush out the landscape.”

NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Jacqui Mumford said:

“When we are seeing large-scale fish kills even in wet years, it should send alarm signals about what we might see in future dry years.

“Entire communities have run out of water and ecosystems are collapsing, with native fish populations have declined by 90%, and even once common birds like the Pink Cockatoo being at risk of extinction.

“The river system is still sick, despite the recent rains, and if we don’t restore more natural flows we’re putting it at risk of ecological collapse when water becomes more scarce.”

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:

“That 450 gigalitres of water mandated for the environment could be an essential lifeline during the dry spell to come. It needs to be recovered as quickly as possible using voluntary water purchases.

“We also need to remove barriers currently stopping this water from reaching the wetlands and floodplains where it is needed most. State governments have stalled progress on this for too long. The Australian Government should appoint an independent panel of experts to find a workable pathway to relax these constraints – which must involve incentives and assurances to gain access from private landholders.

“The Albanese Government also needs to hold a hard line on ‘engineering’ environmental ‘offset’ projects that are either unproven or proven to not work. In Victoria, the Andrews government has had a decade to deliver these projects and don’t deserve any more time. We should stick to the agreement and strike out any projects that are not up and running by mid next year.”

Queensland Conservation Council Water Policy Officer Nigel Parratt said:

“The environment is yet to receive the benefit of these projects. As MBDA CEO Andrew McConville said last year, ‘The credit has been banked, but the payment still needs to be delivered.’

“Finally, nothing should be allowed to delay the 2026 Basin Plan review – the Australian public deserves a thorough, timely assessment of whether this $13 billion dollar plan has been restoring the environment as promised.”

/Public Release. View in full here.