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The head of The Nature Conservancy in Australia, Rich Gilmore, has called for calm amid rising tensions surrounding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Mr Gilmore said while the implementation of the Basin Plan faces serious challenges, it remains a triumph of cooperative federalism and bipartisanship. “The Basin Plan was negotiated in good faith over many years by the Commonwealth, the four Basin states and the ACT. While imperfect, the Plan has already returned 2,100 billion litres of water to nature, around two-thirds of the collectively agreed target”.
Mr Gilmore urged those criticising the Plan – from all sides – to compare the situation in Australia with what is happening globally: “Cape Town, a city of four million people and one of the most prosperous cities in Africa, could run out of water within weeks. In the Middle East, 200 million people live in the shadow of permanent water scarcity. And in the United States, whole farming districts face collapse due to the over-extraction of groundwater”.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was put in place to avoid those fates being replicated in Australia. “The Basin Plan is the envy of the water-scarce world. When I speak with freshwater scientists around the world, they marvel at the very difficult water reforms undertaken by successive Australian Governments and continue to look upon the Basin Plan as a world-leading initiative”, added Gilmore.
Gilmore also said that more needs to be done to keep the Plan on track: “The Basin Plan has serious problems with implementation, regulation and enforcement including well-documented allegations of water theft and mismanagement. But these problems are solvable: bipartisan action to urgently address these problems, combined with new innovations in water sharing can restore confidence in the Plan”, Gilmore said.
The Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund is one such innovation that allows people and nature to thrive together. The Fund uses private sector capital to buy water rights that are then shared between agriculture and nature. The Fund enters into long-term leases to supply water to irrigators at fixed prices, while also providing water to restore the health of local wetlands. “It is win-win for people and nature”, said Gilmore.
Still in its pilot phase, the Fund has so far secured 8 billion litres of water entitlements and, with further investment, could be scaled-up Basin-wide. .
All media enquiries to: Tony Jupp, Associate Director of Communications, TNC Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org