Continuing development of the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) Plan has been thrown into doubt this week with the resignation of MDB Authority Chair, Mike Taylor.
Disagreement had arisen between out-going Chair Taylor, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Water Minister Tony Burke, over interpretation of the 2007 Water Act. In particular, whether or not in setting sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) for the MDB’s 20 or so river valleys, the Act requires water for the environment to come before other (human) uses.
Mike Taylor has stated that the MDBA’s legal advice argues that the Act requires the environment to come first. The Federal Government’s position is that a triple bottom line approach, balancing the environment with social and economic uses, is acceptable.
Whether or not all will be resolved in answering this question remains entirely unclear. For me, scientific agreement on the ecological basis for a ‘healthy river’ (or even better, a healthy ‘working’ river), and definition of ‘sustainable management of water resources’ (as also required by the Water Act) are just as central in reaching an agreed balance between human and environmental water use.
Whatever happens next, we know the constitutional lawyers have come out wealthier and that public confidence in the MDB planning process, especially in rural areas, is lower than a goanna’s gut.
The Australian Green Party and the Australian Conservation Foundation (major NGO) have raised concerns that no one should lose sight of the fundamental need for water to be returned to the rivers and floodplains off the MDB.
With the major flooding that is occurring across the MDB as I write – possibly the biggest floods in decades – mother nature has at least given our river systems a reprieve while our politicians and bureaucrats consider their next step in deciding the future of water sharing in the MDB.
Watch this space!
*The Guide to the MDB Plan was released on October 8 – see my blog from October 15 for more information, including a link to download the Guide.