Australia launches $10 billion Murray-Darling rescue plan

The Australian government's $10 billion (£4 billion) plan to revive the Murray-Darling Basin area known as the country's food bowl has been given the go ahead.

This month the Australian parliament passed the Water Bill 2007 which includes a scheme to safeguard the area, which provides 40 percent of the country’s food.

Environment minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “For over 100 years the waters of the Murray-Darling Basin have been managed through complex and inefficient governance arrangements.

“This has taken its toll on the health of the Basin’s water resources and the viability of water dependent industries. The plan implemented through this legislation will breathe life back into the basin.”

The multi-billion dollar plan for national water security aims to modernise irrigation infrastructure and stop the over-use of water.

Mr Turnbull said it would yield water savings of up to 30 percent currently being lost through leaky pipes.

The bill has been hailed as the most important water management reform in Australia’s history.

For the first time put the planning and management of basin water under one independent expert based body – the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which will report to the environment minister.

Previously the country’s biggest system of rivers and aquifers was managed by between four states with competing interests.

This is said to have resulted in deteriorating infrastructure and over allocation of water.

The government says the new authority will allow decisions to be made in the interests of the basin as a whole not along state lines as the country faces up to a hotter, drier future.

These will include limits on the amount of water taken out of the basin.

Spanning Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, the basin covers one million square kilometres and generates agricultural produce worth $10 billion.

But water taken out of the basin has increased five times since the 1920s resulting in a decline in its environmental health.

Rivers have degraded, healthy wetland has dwindled along with fish numbers while salinity levels and algal blooms have increased due to the decline in water flow.

David Gibbs

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie