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When Murray-Darling Basin governments meet again on Friday they should give river communities the opportunity to radically reform irrigation systems and return water to the desperate river system, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.
“The social and environmental conditions in the Murray-Darling Basin are desperate,” said ACF healthy rivers campaigner Dr Arlene Buchan.
“The best outcome from this week’s Ministerial meeting would be an invitation to communities to submit tenders for integrated investment in land and water reform at a district level and a commitment to abolish the barriers to water trading.
“Closing down unviable irrigation channels and renovating viable systems are just two of the many tools governments can use to save the river and communities that depend on it.
“Historically the Federal Government has approached water buyback, structural adjustment and infrastructure investment as independent and separate concerns.
“We would achieve far better results for our rivers and for communities in irrigation districts by integrating these programs and coordinating them at district level.”
Dr Buchan said governments should invite entire irrigation districts to come forward with land and water reform proposals that integrate aspects of the $3.1 billion for water buyback and the $5.8 billion fund for infrastructure improvement and structural adjustment.
“The time is right for regional communities, businesses and land managers to work together with state and federal governments on integrating these programs and coordinating them at a district level,” she said.
“If irrigation communities are to genuinely benefit from reforms, then existing barriers to trade of water should be abolished, in particular the 4 per cent cap on inter-district trade of water which is restraining trade, costing jobs and causing economic pain.”
A recent paper outlining a proposal for reviving the Murray-Darling and injecting hope into rural communities can be found at: www.acfonline.org.au/rivers.