The Victorian Planning Minister has vetoed the Burra Creek Floodplain Restoration Project, citing environmental concerns. 

The decision by planning minister Sonya Kilkenny highlights the ongoing tension between environmental preservation and agricultural interests in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Burra Creek project (PDF), situated north of Swan Hill on the Murray River, was ambitious in its goal to conserve 2.5 gigalitres of water annually, and inundate 403 hectares of floodplain through engineered flooding. 

However, the minister's concern over the loss of “very large old trees” and significant native vegetation led to its rejection. 

“The project is likely to result in unacceptable environmental effects on … biodiversity values in this important floodplain environment,” Ms Kilkenny said in her assessment, according to reports. 

The Burra Creek initiative was one of nine projects under the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM), a component of the broader Murray-Darling Basin Plan aimed at reducing Victoria's water usage by 72.5GL each year. 

These projects were critical in meeting the state's water-saving targets, and the knock-on effects of this rejection are causing alarm among the farming community.

The Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council has expressed surprise at the decision, saying it believed the floodplain plans were all reasonable projects. 

The rejection also adds another layer of complexity to the already contentious Murray-Darling Basin Plan, particularly following last year's uncertainty around federal funding for Victoria's SDLAM projects. 

Conversely, Environment Victoria's rivers campaigner, Tyler Rotche, supports the minister's decision, raising concerns about the environmental impact at all nine proposed floodplain restoration project sites. 

“[The Burra Creek] project, in particular, is looking at cutting down or drowning over 300 large trees. Over 100 of those are hollow-bearing, and those hollows take hundreds of years to form,” he told reporters.

Rotche has called for buybacks to be used as a more cost-effective method for environmental water provision, pointing out the popularity of this approach among irrigators. “In the last purchase round, there were more people willing to sell [water] than the government was ready to buy.”

Victorian Water Minister Harriet Shing has pledged to continue seeking ways to achieve water recovery and environmental outcomes at Burra Creek. 

“We continue to work on ways to deliver water recovery and environmental outcomes at Burra Creek and seek Commonwealth funding for the approved sites to proceed and to complete assessments for the remaining sites,” she stated.