Communities at the Murray mouth are urging politicians and upstream counterparts to keep course with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as locals remain concerned about the ecological future of the Coorong.
This comes after the Federal Government announced a new Productivity Commission inquiry into the effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is due for reporting by the year’s end.
Mayor of the Coorong District Council, Neville Jaensch, said some remain concerned about the future of environmental flows down to the bottom of the system.
“We believe it is still significantly a federal issue, but our local people want the Murray-Darling Basin Plan delivered on time and in full,” he said.
Memories of the Millennium Drought as environmental issues remain
Coorong fisherman, Gary Hera-Singh, has ridden every bump faced at the lower end of the river — including that of the drought some 15 years ago that saw water levels drop.
“During the Millennium Drought, if you fell overboard in the south lagoon, you would not sink,” he said.
Despite good flow leading a revival of some species of fish due to environmental watering, Mr Hera-Singh said overall it had been a struggle without enough flow.
“From historical levels, it has just been a reflection of the degradation of habitat,” he said.
“With the high flows and strong recruitment over the last five years, we have seen a significant turnaround in particularly common commercial species.
“But overall, all of the fishing is done in the north of the Coorong.
Having watched the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan make headlines for the wrong reasons, Mr Hera-Singh said action was needed if any issues with environmental flow into the Coorong were to be fixed.
“At the end of the day, if you have not got enough water upstream to pass downstream, and if over-allocation and over-extraction issues are not addressed, then there is not enough water for downstream.”
Ecologists have also voiced the necessity for full delivery of the agreement to keep birds in the area, saying the protection of habitats was somewhat forgotten in the formulation of the Basin Plan.
Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide, David Paton, said with bird habitats deteriorating in the area, the estimated environmental water in the Basin Plan was likely to be insufficient.
“We have got international obligations under RAMSAR and migratory bird agreements to actually provide quality habitat,” Mr Paton said.
“I think it is going to be very hard to provide that within this region. The quantity of water that is to be returned … if it is ever returned, only a portion of that gets to this region.
“The quantity of water will certainly improve the salinities and not give a high risk of having the high salinities again, but it is not going to deliver a healthy Coorong in the long term.”
Basin Plan future remains unknown as new inquiry announced
Since allegations of water theft and misconduct in the Murray-Darling Basin first aired on Four Corners in 2017, a number of reviews have been commissioned including a state-based Royal Commission in South Australia.
Most recently, the Productivity Commission announced an inquiry on Wednesday aiming to assess the overall effectiveness of the Basin Plan.
What happens next with the agreement remains uncertain, following a federal senate vote to disallow a move aimed to slash the amount of water to be returned to the environment from irrigation.
This proposed amendment was pushed to ease the pressure on struggling communities upstream, with its disallowance causing New South Wales to consider pulling out of the agreement.
However Mr Jaensch said advancements in technology and efficiencies could also take responsibility for the struggles faced.
“We have found that within the last 40 years, rural employment has dropped off dramatically everywhere,” he said.
“We are concerned obviously when people talk about the economic impact of environmental water being retained or used.
“Yes employment is important, but you have to have water there for people and the environment.”
Source: ABC News