THE federal government’s plan to deliver an additional 450GL of water to the Murray-Darling Basin became law yesterday with the passage of legislation through parliament.
The legislation also secures $1.77 billion to relax key operating constraints and recover the additional water through projects which don’t have a social and economic impact on communities.
Minister for Water Tony Burke said the passage of the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill marks a key milestone in the Gillard government’s plan to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health.
“Late last year the government ended a century long argument on how best to manage our rivers and delivered a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and ensures sustainable food production,’’ he said.
“The Murray-Darling Basin Authority set a benchmark of 2750GL of environmental water in the Basin.
“But the Gillard government was determined to achieve greater environmental outcomes than could be achieved through this plan.
“The plan on its own was never enough. The modelling said to get the basin back to the standard of health required, the government had to interact with the plan to get an extra 450GL back into the system.
“Without this legislation the money required for the 450GL could not be guaranteed.
“Last year we locked in that there would be a plan, now we have locked in the health of the basin.
“The additional environmental water made possible by this Bill will benefit the Coorong and Lower Lakes, Ramsar-listed wetlands, River Red Gum forests, national parks and wildlife throughout the Basin and help ensure the system never again goes into a period of drought lacking the resilience it needs to survive.”
Mr Burke said the majority of the $1.7 billion in the special account will be directed towards achieving further improvements in irrigation efficiency.
It also will address existing constraints that limit higher water flows, including outflows from storage dams, low-lying infrastructure, and the need to provide for flood easements or agreements with landholders.
Any water obtained using the funds in the special account must be obtained through projects that ensure no social or economic downside for communities.