Councils call for certainty as Water Ministers meet today

As Water Ministers meet today for the first time since December, the Murray River Group of Councils is pressing for clear and decisive action that will prioritise certainty for the future of the Murray Darling Basin Plan implementation.

The Murray River Group, which represents communities across northern Victoria, is calling on the Ministerial Council (MinCo) to face the difficult decisions around timing and funding to get the Plan right.

The Group is asking Ministers to focus efforts on tackling the parts of the Basin Plan that are behind schedule; such as the supply projects to deliver 605GL worth of environmental benefits and constraints management that is critical to enabling environmental water to be delivered to where it is required.

Murray River Group of Councils Chair and Swan Hill Rural City Mayor, Bill Moar, said, “These projects are really important to that balance that we keep on hearing about. If they aren’t delivered, then more water will have to be recovered from agriculture to restore the health of the Basin’s ecosystems. Doing that will cause more damage to our communities and put more pressure on our farmers, so let’s deliver the 605GL, even if they take a bit more time, or there have to be new projects.”

The Group is also concerned at recent applications to the Commonwealth Water Efficiency Program that on the face of it are at odds with the socio-economic neutrality criteria agreed by all Basin governments in December 2018.

“[Victorian Water Minister] Lisa Neville and MinCo worked hard and listened and agreed the socio-economic criteria and we thought that had clarified it,” said Cr Moar. “Only now we are seeing proposals that really aren’t water saving projects. We want Ministers to be really clear about their commitment to the neutrality principles and then tell their departments to adhere to them please.”

The Group also expressed its support for Minister Neville on the issue of deliverability and the risks of increased extraction licences in the Murray downstream of the Barmah Choke to the environment and to existing water entitlement holders.

MRGC called on Ministers to urgently implement a consistent mechanism for issuing new extraction licences that will not adversely affect existing entitlement holders.

Other areas where the MRGC councils are seeking better outcomes for their communities include improved transparency and accountability for environmental watering, as well as reform of the water market to improve transparency and consistency.

The Murray River Group of Councils comprises six councils in northern Victoria, Mildura and Swan Hill Rural City Councils and Loddon, Gannawarra, Campaspe and Moira Shires.