Challenge issued to Wentworth Group

July 05, 2017

An example of river damage SRI says will only worsen if the environmental watering component of the Basin Plan is not repaired.

Come and debate the issues and show us the background on which your conclusions have been based.

This is the invitation offered by community leaders in the NSW Murray Valley to the Wentworth Group, following its comment this week that it wants even more environmental water for the Murray River.

The Wentworth Group has claimed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is ‘‘doomed to fail’’ without ‘‘a common sense approach’’.

Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Graeme Pyle described the claims that more water is needed as ‘‘ludicrous’’ and said it highlights how out of touch the Wentworth Group is with reality.

Mr Pyle said it was disappointing that there are advocacy groups who have pursued an ideological approach of ‘just add water’ to decisions for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

This is not sustainable for the environment, people or the Murray River, he said.

‘‘Our communities have endorsed science-based decisions for environmental outcomes and in fact in this region alone have invested millions and millions of dollars over 15 years in achieving this,’’ Mr Pyle said.

‘‘This region has also returned significant volumes of water for environmental outcomes since the mid-1990s.

‘‘Unless we move away from emotion and this continued demand on how much more flow can go down the Murray River to South Australia, poor decisions will continue to be made.

‘‘We live here ... we breathe it and know the Murray River from its headwaters to its mouth.

‘‘We want it protected more than any advocate who lives in Canberra or Adelaide because it’s been our home for generations and we want to keep it that way for generations to come.’’

Mr Pyle said it is time there was public recognition that some of the information and modelling used to prepare the Basin Plan has proved incorrect.

There needs to be an acceptance there is a limit to the capacity of the Murray River in how much water can be sent down to South Australia as environmental flows, he said.

‘‘We also need clear separation of issues on the Darling River from issues in the Murray River from the Hume Dam to the South Australia border.

‘‘To pursue higher and higher environmental flows will have detrimental impacts and unintended consequences that need to be addressed. This includes significant damage to river banks from high river flows, as well as huge and increasing problems from European carp — the ‘rabbits of the river’ — which are exploding in numbers due to excess water in their key breeding areas.

‘‘It is extremely unfortunate that when some world-renowned scientists point out these issues, they tend to be ostracised because they are not following the accepted line of thinking. Perhaps it’s because some people who rely on the ‘public purse’ for their income feel their funding may be threatened.

‘‘We would love the opportunity to have a public debate around all these issues. Whether it’s salinity levels — which have reduced despite scientific modelling and recent claims to the contrary — or the ability of the system to carry the volumes of water proposed under the Basin Plan, or in fact any of the other so-called environmental issues; we’re happy to discuss them all.

‘‘Perhaps we can even talk about environmentalist claims when the Basin Plan was being prepared that ‘it will never rain again’ ... that’s two decent floods ago now.’’

Mr Pyle concluded by saying an increasing number of politicians and clear thinking people are starting to see the folly behind some of the Basin Plan’s modelling and implementation, although many individuals who rely on its funding for their livelihood seem more reluctant to acknowledge there are issues which need to be addressed.

‘‘We can have a Basin Plan that cares for the environment, supports our rural communities and helps us provide clean, green food for Australians and the rest of the world. But there are a few people who need to broaden their thinking before this can be achieved,’’ Mr Pyle said.

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