- Be informed
- Get involved
- Donate now
- News & media
You’d agree it’s risky to have to survive on one kidney. Not only will the remaining kidney not be able to do as effective a job of filtering and purifying as both combined, it is also likely to wear out under the impact of added stress.
No one would like to survive on one kidney. Then why are we willing to let our lifeblood – the Murray-Darling – live on one kidney?
The state and federal governments came to some sort of an agreement on July 10 about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Given decades of upstream, downstream conflict about water-sharing, this agreement, which comes a couple of months before a final plan is likely to enter Parliament, is a welcome sign.
The agreement has a provision to continue to improve or adjust – as the case may be – the volume of water to be returned to the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin.
But the crucial missing element in this agreement is how much water will definitely be returned to the environment. Various stakeholders have various views on this figure, but given that the purpose of this plan is to make the Murray-Darling healthy, there can only be one scientifically acceptable view: enough to keep the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling alive in the future. If you ask independent scientists, they are likely to agree that “enough” is in the range of 4000 billion litres.
Wetlands are like kidneys: they filter water and nutrients, provide flood control, habitat for birds, fish, plants, other wildlife, as well as insects such as bees which provide vital pollination services to farmers.
Several industries including tourism in the Murray-Darling Basin are acutely reliant on these services wetlands provide free of charge.
There are over 30.000 wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin. These range from majestic Coorong near the mouth of the Murray to private wetlands in farmers back-paddocks.
Sixteen out of these are listed as “internationally significant” for the diversity of plant and animal life they support, as well as for their cultural and social relevance.
Wetlands are like kidneys: they filter water and nutrients, provide flood control, habitat for birds, fish, plants, other wildlife, as well as insects such as bees which provide vital pollination services to farmers
An assessment we prepared in 2010 found that if maintained in a healthy state, the 16 international wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin provide a combined benefit of $2.1 billion per year to the economy and communities in the Murray-Darling Basin through these vital services. Tourism in a healthy Murray-Darling Basin can provide a benefit of $1.6bn.
This plan is meant to make the rivers and wetlands healthy, so that the communities and industries who rely on it can survive into the future.
Given these requirements, it is very sobering to learn that atleast half of the sixteen international wetlands will not be protected under the current 2750 billion litres version of the Basin Plan. Iconic and important Ramsar sites included in the red list of the Friends of the Earth report include the majestic Coorong, the largest bird-breeding site in the Southern Hemisphere, the iconic Hattah Lakes in North Western Victoria, the Barmah-Millewa red gum forest on the NSW-Victorian border, and the Narran Lakes in northern NSW.
Detailed information about the impact of the current Basin Plan on all the wetlands of the Basin is not available – modelling cannot be undertaken at such an extensive scale. But there is sufficient information to conclude that atleast eight out of sixteen most iconic wetlands in the Basin, whose protection is an international obligation for the Australian Government, will not be safe in the future under the current plan.
The plan is so weak it fails half of the most important wetlands in the Basin, what might the impact of such a plan be on all the wetlands of the Basin which need enough water to survive and function. Saying yes to the current plan is like agreeing to risk living on one kidney.
The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke will have to make some hard decisions over the next few weeks. The agreement reached so far between the states was a necessary step towards the development of one national plan. But the final decision, which lies with the Federal Environment Minister, must be one which puts the wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin on a surer footing than living on one kidney.