MURRAY-DARLING BASIN (MDB)
A briefing note for campaigners
River system is one of the most valuable natural resources
in Australia: two out of every five
farms are located within the basin, and 75% of the country’s
irrigation. These farms turn out more than 40% of the nation’s
gross agricultural production – about $9 billion worth.
In addition, the basin provides water for some 3 million
But the waters of
the MDB are in trouble. Here’s some
of the evidence:
campaign focus is based on the obligation we have,
as Catholics, to act out of a sense of respect for
the integrity of creation. To willingly allow or contribute
to the extinction of a species is such an act of disrespect.
To act in such a way that a river system such as the
Murray-Darling is so over-exploited that it cannot
any longer flow out to the sea, or that its flora and
fauna are threatened with extinction, is also an act
of disrespect for the integrity of creation.
“No flow” on
the increase: The amount of Murray water flowing into the sea
is now around one-fifth
it was at Federation in 1901. In times gone by, the Murray
would fail to flow into the sea once in 20 years. Now it fails
to reach the sea, on average, every second year.
trees and fish: 75% of the tree-cover in the Basin has
been cleared. Fish populations are down more than
80% on original populations in some parts of the river. The
26 native fish species of the MDB are threatened by changes
in river flow, barriers to movement (such as weirs and dams),
decline in water quality etc. In such circumstances it is extremely
difficult for many native species to survive.
salinity: Urbanisation, irrigation and clearing of vegetation
in bringing the basin’s naturally
occurring salt closer to the surface. Almost all rivers in
the MDB are affected. In Queensland, for example, the Condamine
and Balonne rivers will soon be too salty to use for drinking
water 40% of the time. Dryland salinity is also extensive.
More than half a million hectares of agricultural land is
Basin Commission said in 2002 that the
level of health is less than what is required for ecological
sustainability”. In other words, the great Murray River
Operation: But efforts are underway to mount a rescue operation. Among
many other initiatives is the “First
Step” commitment, made by the Murray-Darling Ministerial
Council in 2003 and confirmed in June 2004 by the Council of
Australian Governments (CoAG). This involves a move to set
aside 500 gigalitres (GL) of water a year to increase environmental
flows (1 GL= 500 Olympic Swimming Pools) in the Murray. The
water would be bought back from existing irrigators over 5
years at a cost of $500m.
500 GL sounds
like a lot of water, but scientific reports released in 2003
indicate that this
amount is only a fraction of what
is needed to stop the
decline in the river. For this to happen, 1500GL is a minimum. This would
have an impact of less than 2% a year on present water users.
is asking all candidates in the Federal Election to support
the increase of the “First Step” environmental
flows to the Murray from 500 to 1500 GL per year.
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