While flood waters continue to rage in Queensland with more rain continuing to fall, debate on the Murray Darling Basin is stepping up. Flood waters are slowly making there way down the Murray Darling system to the Lower Lakes of the Coorong.
The Murray Darling Basin has experienced its wettest year on record and there are now calls for the basin water plan to be deferred and for dams to be built to mitigate future flooding.
Prime Minister Gillard was adamant that reform should not be delayed. "We know there are floods around the country now, but we're also a nation that regularly experiences drought," Ms Gillard told reporters in Perth. "So rather than just wait until the next drought hits the Murray-Darling now is the time to get it right for the future. So we will continue in 2011 to pursue our reforms through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority."
Australia has suffered six major droughts and fifteen less severe droughts in the last 100 years. A CSIRO report released in October 2010 on the changing climate of South East Australia and particularly the Murray Darling Basin forecast for the long term an increasing risk of below average rainfall and run off into streams and generally drier conditions. The change in the climate has, at least in part, been attributed to an increase in atmospheric anthropogenic greenhouse gases associated with global warming.
The Basin plan recommended returning 3000 to 4000 gigalitres to the river for environmental flows each year, while scientists recommend the upper level is necessary to maintain basic ecological systems in the river basin. It is estimated 90 per cent of all floodplain wetlands in the Murray Darling Basin having been lost or severely degraded despite their economic importance in filtering and storing water and providing important wetlands habitats.
The Wentworth group of scientists recommended about 4400 Gigalitres needed to be allocated for "the environment's share of the long-term average flows of the Murray-Darling system in order to achieve a high probability of restoring the Basin to a healthy condition." in a report (PDF) released June 2010.
Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has supported the National Farmers Federation call to delay introduction of the Basin Plan and to build a series of dams across Australia.
Community opposition stopped the Queensland Government from building the Traveston Dam in Mary Valley which would have flooded farmland. The Dam was stopped for environmental reasons by the Federal Government in November 2009.
According to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) delivery of a timely Basin Plan is necessary to return the Murray-Darling to good health. “The Murray-Darling continues to be in crisis and we urgently need a scientifically robust Basin Plan which will stop environmental degradation and secure Basin communities and the economy into the future,” said Ruchira Talukdar, ACF Healthy Ecosystems campaigner.
In Queensland outspoken Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce is calling for more dams to be built on the Fitzroy and Balonne rivers to prevent future flood losses. "If you look at Rockhampton and you look at St George there is no sense having floods going through the middle of town if you can build the structures to avoid it," he said. "Water is the storer of wealth and it is also the creator of destruction if it is out of control." he told Seven News.
“Calling for more dams and the delay of the Basin Plan indicates a lack of support for water reform. Dams are part of the problem in the Murray-Darling Basin; dams choke rivers and dry up wetlands and floodplains. More dams will send us backwards rather than fix the Murray-Darling crisis,” Ms Talukdar said.
“Basin communities depend on a healthy Murray-Darling. The Basin Plan must not be delayed, stymied and used as a political football or the Murray-Darling and its communities will lose out and continue facing uncertainty. The Murray-Darling needs a solution, not more delay and inaction.” concluded Ms Talukdar in the media release.