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Entering the market and purchasing water entitlements is the only way to return 'real' water to the River Murray in time to avoid irreversible ecological decline, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today in response to a water efficiency plan announced by Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Malcolm Turnbull.
"We welcome Malcolm Turnbull's proposal as a worthwhile initiative but it doesn't go far enough," said Dr Arlene Buchan of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
"The River Murray is grossly over-allocated and the only way to address this it to re-allocate water back to the environment.
"Government should be purchasing water entitlements, setting up entitlement buy-back schemes or coming up with novel market instruments that allow for a fairer share of water between irrigators and the environment.
"The environment is supposed to be an equal partner in the national water reform program but that's not what it looks like at present.
"It's more than two years since the Living Murray Initiative came into being with $500 million put forward to return 500 billion litres of water to the Murray. Two years on, not a single drop of real water has been returned to the river under the Living Murray's 'First Step'.
"It appears every effort is being made to prevent reallocation of water from irrigation to the environment, despite the declining health of our river systems.
"Mr Turnbull is championing an on-farm water efficiency program that would see government investing in improved water delivery and storage measures. This will make some gains for the Murray through reduced evaporation and leakage.
"At this rate it might take years for the Living Murray to return real water to the Murray - and that's time the stressed river system simply doesn't have," she said.
"The Murray is in crisis and requires urgent action. Buying water is the quickest way to revive the river and it also ensures value for taxpayers' dollars."