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By Dr Arlene Harriss-Buchan.
The delay in the release of the Federal Government's plan for the Murray-Darling Basin is very disappointing.
As The Advertiser's editorial (21/7/10) correctly stated, proper management of the Murray-Darling Basin is one of the most crucial issues facing this country.
The Basin plan should have been released this month. Now it looks like it will be September before we see the guide to the draft plan.
This is not an ideal situation while the Basin's rivers and wetlands desperately need more water and irrigators want certainty about future water allocations.
Failure to release the plan on time has led to a great deal of scaremongering and speculation, especially in South Australia, about the scale of the change and the impact that will have.
Bickering about what should be done to save the Lower Lakes and Coorong or protect Riverland irrigators is not going to help the situation.
In fact it plays right into the hands of those who want to stop changes to water-sharing arrangements across the Murray-Darling Basin.
Water users in Adelaide, South Australian River Murray irrigators and environmental treasures at the end of the system are all set to be key beneficiaries of a good, scientifically robust Basin plan.
This would be worth waiting for. Instead we've had a chorus of criticism and calls for exemptions for parts of South Australia, for scrapping the Act, for a referendum, for a federal takeover - for anything other than the current Basin planning process.
As the plan has been delayed, it is best that its release be removed from the election period to avoid the plan being used as a political football.
We are looking at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the natural resource base of the entire Murray-Darling Basin.
The Water Act 2007 and its dependent Basin plan retain bipartisan support. Its key components withstood a federal election and were improved by the new Government. All the Basin states remain in the tent, the major interest groups are on board and the $12.9 billion of federal money to drive the plan has survived the global financial crisis.
The current opportunity will not come again within a timeframe that will protect and restore the ecology of the Murray-Darling Basin, putting valuable irrigation and other productive industries - especially those at the lower end of the system - on to a genuinely sustainable footing and increasing their resilience to future shocks and pressures like drought and climate change.
The Basin plan is not, and cannot be, only about protecting South Australian interests, just as it isn't about protecting the interests of any particular state or group of stakeholders.
It has to be about providing a whole-of-Basin solution to a whole-of-Basin problem; a problem that stems from decades of water over-extraction as a consequence of poor, parochial decision-making by all the Basin state governments.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority must get the new water-sharing arrangements right and then there will be plenty of time to argue and debate important regional and local conundrums.
But allowing those disputes to be a distraction from making the Basin plan as good as it can be might mean there is nothing left to argue over.
Come on, South Australia. This is the time to stand united and make a loud and clear call for a fair share of the water from upstream.
Push for a strong, scientifically robust Basin plan. Nothing less will fix the dire problems of the Murray-Darling Basin for anyone involved.
Dr Arlene Harriss-Buchan is the ACF's Healthy Rivers Campaigner.