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The cost of saving water
Released 13 January 2011

A government plan to limit the amount of water that can be taken from the Murray-Darling Basin has been met with strong opposition by local communities. 

In a submission to the Parliament of Australia, various Murrumbidgee Valley stakeholders have voiced their strong opposition to the proposed Basin Plan, which is being developed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

The release of the ‘Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan’ has generated real concerns about the socio-economic impact of water cuts to the region and the long-term viability of some towns.

While the government’s intention is to preserve the environment, I believe this outcome should not be at the cost of the livelihood of Australians living in these areas. 

Content of the Basin Plan
The Commonwealth Water Act 2007 specifies some content of the Basin Plan, including:
  • limits on the amount of water (both surface water and groundwater) that can be taken from Basin water resources on a sustainable basis
  • identification of risks to Basin water resources, such as climate change, and strategies to manage those risks
  • the requirements that state water resource plans must comply with for them to be accredited or adopted under the Act
  • an environmental watering plan to optimise environmental outcomes for the Basin
  • a water quality and salinity management plan
  • rules about trading of water rights in relation to Basin water resources.

Impacts of the proposal

The MDBA has indicated that the cost of the Basin Plan to the Murrumbidgee Valley would be 800 jobs and $800 million. However, Australian Bureau of Statistics modelling indicates it is closer to 8000 jobs and $1 billion.

Another hidden impact of the Basin Plan will be the decline of social and community wellbeing. Farming communities across the basin have worked hard to etch out a livelihood that they may lose should the proposal be implemented. And this will facilitate the social decline of surrounding communities as a number of farmers leave the Murrumbidgee Valley in search of work.

A more balanced plan

Industries in Griffith (including farming) have continually invested in improved technology and infrastructure to ensure they are using their allocated water and any wastewater in the most efficient manner. These on-farm efficiencies should be complemented by government-funded infrastructure improvements in water delivery and storage.

The survival of the area depends on a more balanced Basin Plan that doesn’t just take into account the environmental impact, but also economic and community issues.