3 September 2020
20 per cent shortfall sends shivers down the river
South Australia’s peak environment body has called for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan water recovery targets to be urgently lifted in the wake of today’s Wentworth Group report, which has found 20 per cent less water in the system than expected.
It comes as concerning reports emerge interstate of attempts to scrap the extra 450GL of water recovery that SA negotiated when the Basin Plan was created.
“South Australia has the most to lose if water is missing,” said Conservation SA’s Chief Executive, Craig Wilkins.
“We’ll be the ones left standing when the music stops and there are no chairs left.
“Alarm bells should be ringing in the offices of Water Ministers across the Murray-Darling Basin – including SA Environment Minister David Speirs.
“With climate change, any shortfall in South Australia’s fair share will only increase,” he said.
When the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was created, climate change loss was not factored in, but it was meant to be included later. The Wentworth Group has identified climate change as one of the major likely causes of the shortfall along with water theft, poor accounting, over-estimation of gains from efficiency projects and flood plain harvesting.
“We need to accept that climate change is affecting the Murray-Darling system today. We can’t wait five years until the next major review to include it in water recovery targets,” Mr Wilkins said.
Today’s Wentworth Group report comes ahead of an expected major announcement tomorrow by Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt in response to a series of reports by the Productivity Commission, the Socio-Economic Panel and the formal update on the Water for the Environment Special Account (WESA).
The WESA is the mechanism that delivers the extra 450GL that South Australia negotiated when the Murray Darling Basin Plan was created. Without it, SA wouldn’t have signed up.
The current approach is to use the WESA for irrigation ‘efficiency’ projects. The Lifeblood Alliance – of which Conservation SA is a member – is calling for the WESA to be spent on voluntary, open-tender buybacks.
“It’s essential buybacks are back on the table,” said Healthy Rivers campaigner Kate McBride.
“Buybacks have always been in the Federal Government’s back pocket ready to be used if upstream states fail to deliver the water they have promised.
“Reports that interstate MPs are trying to remove voluntary buybacks as an option are deeply disturbing.
“Voluntary buybacks are the cheapest, quickest and most efficient option to restore our rivers to health. They also free up more money to support regional communities as they adjust to less water in the system,” she said.
Link to Wentworth Group report
Link to Lifeblood Alliance fact sheet