MDB report shows boost for small residents
The first long term report on environmental watering in the Murray-Darling Basin has found a number of improvements.
It appears that native fish, birds and vegetation numbers have all improved since the scheme began.
But the human residents of river communities may not be faring so well, with many claiming the policy has brought nothing but ill-effects to their towns and industries.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH), David Papps, is in charge of billions of dollars of water rights acquired by the Australian Government under the Murray Darling scheme over the last ten years.
He said the five-yearly monitoring and evaluation report released this week shows targets will be met.
“It's early days yet, but we're getting some really positive signs,” Mr Papps has told ABC reporters.
“There are a lot of highlights for native fish. In April of last year, Murray cod were found in the lower Murray for the first time in about a decade. Murray hardyhead, a small endangered fish, more than 10 times the usual numbers reported in our monitoring.
“We can attribute the growth in numbers to a range of factors, but one of those factors is undoubtedly environmental watering.”
Mr Papps said watering decisions had been changed in response to feedback from communities and other experts.
“The best example of that is the Goulburn [River, in northern Victoria] where we've been watering with reasonable amounts of water over the past three years to try and get golden perch to spawn. In simple terms, in the first two years we failed, but we learned,” he said.
“We adjusted the watering each year so that in 2014-15 we got a record result.”
The new Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde faced questions over the authority’s consultation practices at a Senate inquiry this week.
“It's understandable to me why you would have heard such negativity,” he told the inquiry.
“Farmers and some communities are doing it particularly tough. The Basin Plan comes at a time when a lot of the farm sector's still recovering from the Millennium drought.
“It comes at a time when there's new industries moving into the southern Basin, such as the almond industry, to take advantage of the water there.
“That reflects changes in world markets, changes in commodity prices, and all the other things that were going on in rural and regional Australia.
“Putting all that together, it's a pretty complex and difficult environment. If I was a farmer going through that change, I would also find it quite confronting.”
But Mr Glyde said community responses only validated the need for a clear Plan for the allocation of water.
“To me, the Plan does provide a way forward that allows agriculture and all of its industries a secure investment environment so that they can meet the increasing demand for Australian food and fibre.”