Experts call for urgent overhaul of Basin Plan


A group of 12 experts in water and environmental management has released a declaration warning that the Basin Plan is failing to deliver the environmental outcomes intended for the Murray-Darling Basin, and calling for “all publicly-funded water recovery associated with irrigation infrastructure subsidies/grants in the Murray-Darling Basin to be halted until a comprehensive and independent audit of Basin water recovery is published”.

“There is no time to waste. The Basin remains in a poor state. While there have been improvements in specific sites, these have not resulted in measurable improvements in key environmental indicators at a basin scale.”

The group, which includes water management experts, environmental experts and economists, warns that the Basin Plan enacted in 2012, under which $4 billion has been spent on water recovery infrastructure projects, has failed to deliver the environmental improvements intended under the Water Act 2007.

“Much more could have been achieved for far less because subsidising infrastructure to acquire water for the environment is, based on Australian government data, 2.5 times more expensive than buying water entitlements directly, and might be much more expensive after accounting for reductions in return flows. Little evidence exists that key objects of the Water Act (2007) have been realised or key socio-cultural values been adequately supported”

The Declaration calls for a comprehensive “audit of all completed Basin water recovery and a full scientific review of planned Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustments including details of environmental water recovered, expenditures and actual environmental outcomes (to date and projected), especially the effects on Basin stream flows, including at the Murray Mouth, and on floodplain inundation”.

It proposes “an adequately funded, expert, scientific and independent body to monitor, measure and give advice about delivery of the Water Act (2007) including:

  • spatial and temporal hydrological and environmental changes in the Basin;

  • comprehensive economic and scientific audits of the costs, benefits and outcomes of the Basin Plan and water recovery;

  • river-scale assessments of effectiveness of measured water use from rivers and on floodplains; and

  • evaluations of the adequacy of State river management and regulation to fully deliver the Water Act (2007).

“Unless the Australian and State governments fully deliver on the key objects of the Water Act (2007), the Basin's aquatic environments will remain impaired and billions of public money risks being spent without leading to the long-term sustainability of either irrigation or the environment and the support needed for key social-cultural values."

The signatories to the Declaration are: Professors Henning Bjornlund, Jeff Connor and Lin Crase (University of South Australia), Richard Davis (formerly Chief Science Advisor to the National Water Commission), Professor Quentin Grafton (Australian National University), Dr Graham Harris (Foundation Chief of CSIRO Land and Water and Honorary Professorial Fellow University of Wollongong), Associate Professor Darla Hatton MacDonald (University of Tasmania), Professor Richard Kingsford (University of New South Wales), Associate Professor David Paton AM (University of Adelaide), Professor John Quiggin (University of Queensland), Professor Sarah Wheeler (University of Adelaide) and Adjunct Professor John Williams (ANU, and former Head of CSIRO Land & Water, and former Natural Resources Commissioner, NSW).

The Declaration is available at https://murraydeclaration.org/