Water for drought-ravaged Australia wetlands

Drought-stricken Australian wetlands are to be given a "much needed drink" with a billion litre watering programme, the country's government has announced.

The first water release began last Tuesday (March 25) and will deliver more than a billion litres to four wetland sites in the Murray-Darling Basin, South Australia in coming weeks.

Senator Penny Wong, minister for climate change and water, said: “These are the first in a number of environmental watering actions planned by the Commonwealth to give priority drought-affected wetlands a much-needed drink.”

The delivery is the first under the government’s Water for the Future buyback plan.

The programme provides AUS$3.1 billion ((£1.5 billion) over ten years to buy up water entitlements from farmers and property owners to use to protect or restore the basin’s environmental assets.

Sites are chosen by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, following proposals from basin states and advice from the Environmental Water Scientific Advisory Committee – a panel of scientific experts. The first four sites are:

  • Chowilla Floodplain, which contains large areas of River Red Gum, Black Box woodland and diverse wetland habitats. It will receive 286 million litres to go with 350 million litres provided by the South Australian Government.
  • Paiwalla Wetland, which contains rare and nationally listed species and is visited by significant populations of migratory water birds. It gets 475 million litres.
  • Carpark Lagoons, a diverse floodplain and wetland habitat for a range of aquatic and terrestrial animals will get 200 million litres targeted at protecting River Red Gums.
  • Rocky Gully, a refuge site for rare and nationally listed species receives 80 million litres.
  • More water releases will follow at other sites around the Murray-Darling Basin in coming months, the government says.

    “The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is working with basin states to identify priority sites for environmental watering, with more sites to be watered in other parts of the basin soon,” Senator Wong said.

    The Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia’s largest drainage divisions.

    It covers one seventh of the continent and includes Australia’s three largest rivers – the Murray River, the Darling River and the Murrumbidgee River.

    The basin is viewed as highly important for biodiversity containing some 30,000 wetlands.

    It is also important for rural communities and the Australian economy.

    Some three million people are dependent on its water and about 85% of irrigation in Australia happens there supporting an agricultural industry worth more than $9 billion per annum.

    But the area is threatened by over-allocated water resources, salinity and climate change.

    Senator Wong and South Australian minister for the River Murray, Karlene Maywald hailed these water deliveries as a “new chapter” in the restoration of the Murray-Darling Basin.

    “These releases of environmental water are the first dividends from the Australian Government’s $3.1 billion water buyback programme under its Water for the Future plan,” Senator Wong said.

    For more details visit the government website.

    David Gibbs

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