On Monday amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were debated in Parliament.
One feature of the amended plan was an agreement between the major parties to reduce environmental water for the basin by one fifth.
Reactions from environment groups to the amended the plan ranged from cautious acceptance to disappointment and dismay.
Cyril Smith, spokesperson for the Orange and Region Water Security Alliance, welcomed the fact that there has been an agreement between the government and the Labor opposition on the amended plan, but shared the concerns expressed by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists about the 36 water-saving projects that are designed to offset the water removed from the southern basin's environmental flows.
There are concerns about effectiveness of the projects and the fact that they don't have to be implemented until June 30, 2024.
Meanwhile, the removal of the water in question from the environmental flow will take place immediately.
Bev Smiles, President of the Inland Rivers Network, was critical of the reduction of environmental flow, saying “Inland Rivers Network is very disappointed that the Macquarie Marshes, Menindee Lakes and the Darling River below Bourke have been sacrificed in a poor Basin plan that will not deliver the required ecological outcomes for native fish, red gum forests, wetlands and downstream communities.
“The very risky compromise decision signed off by the Coalition and the ALP on Monday, does nothing to improve water quality or support internationally significant natural areas in the Murray-Darling Basin,” she said.
“The opportunity to improve drought resilience for native species has been lost.”
Cilla Kinross, president of the Central West Environment Council, was also critical, stating that “the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, in place since 2012, was an attempt to manage the river for the long-term benefit of the environment and the communities along the river, both dependent on healthy flows”.
“The Central West Environment Council (CWEC) supported the initiative, but argued that the amount of water allocated to the environment was insufficient to maintain critical ecosystems, including internationally recognised wetlands,” she continued.
“Now with the vote by the Federal government to reduce the environment water by one fifth (a cut of 650 billion litres) the future of the plan, and its commitment to provide adequate water for the environment, is in serious doubt.
“CWEC is opposed to these cuts.”