Environmental water bought back by the Commonwealth as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is making a difference to the health of redgums, wetlands, fish and birds across the basin, but the benefits are at risk because of a proposed cap on buybacks, the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

The Federal Government today announced it will legislate to cap buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres.

“The federal government’s inclination to recover water by subsidising irrigation upgrades is making the task of returning the promised 3,200 gigalitres difficult because much of the low hanging fruit has already been picked,” said ACF’s Healthy Ecosystems Program Manager Jonathan La Nauze. 

“But if we do not get this volume of water back in the rivers, environmental jewels like the Coorong will be in dire trouble.

“After seven years the government has only managed to recover 600 gigalitres through subsidising farmers to become more efficient.

“Capping buybacks would leave another 950 gigalitres to be found through expensive subsidies.  To date the government has not been able to tell us where this water will come from.

“ACF calls on the government to show how it’s going to recover this water, from where, and at what cost.

“We urge Senators of all political persuasion to ask for the proof this can be done before supporting any legislation to cap buybacks.”

Meanwhile, information released by the Basin Authority shows important environmental sites in the basin received a total of 2,000 gigalitres of water in 2014.

“This water has boosted many thirsty wetlands, it has encouraged fish and bird breeding and has given a new lease of life to redgums that have been dying for a drink,” Mr La Nauze said.

Two spring ‘freshes’ (pulses of water) were delivered into the Goulburn River using Commonwealth and Living Murray environmental water.  The fresh flows prompted golden perch spawning and led to a bumper breeding season for them. The flows also boosted breeding of silver perch, a threatened species.

Flows were delivered to the Gunbower Creek and forest to support native fish species by delivering water at a time that’s more in line with their natural breeding cycles.  The winter flow led to large scale flooding of the forest and is helping return health to river red gums and has also provided important feeding habitat for water birds. The flows in the creek are supporting condition and growth of Murray cod and golden perch, in particular helping our juvenile cod to develop and help the larva to be distributed through the river system.

Spike rush, an important food source and habitat, flourished from water pumped into Yarradda Lagoon, a nationally significant wetland in the mid-Murrumbidgee. The Fivebough and Tuckerbil swamps, both Ramsar-listed wetlands which host brolgas and the very rare Australasian bittern, benefitted from environmental water. Watering prompted breeding of the endangered southern bell frog in the Nimmie-Caira area and bird breeding in many of the Lowbidgee wetlands, in particular great egrets at Tarwillie Swamp.

Water delivered to the Gingham and Lower Gwydir wetlands helped a threatened plant community, the marsh club rush, which provides important habitat for birds and fish. Environmental watering of the Macquarie Marshes has shored up habitat areas as refuges for a range of native species. A ‘temperature control curtain’ installed at Burrendong Dam allows warm water to be released from near the surface of the dam, instead of cold water from lower down, improving habitat just downstream of the dam for native fish and other species.

Water delivered to the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth allowed the vegetation Ruppia tuberosa to flower and fruit, providing food and habitat for birds, small fish, invertebrates and zooplankton.  A continuous flow of water flushed salt from the river system, meaning salinity concentrations in Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong stayed below target levels.  There’s been an increased recording of waterbird numbers in the area compared to previous years, as well as good number of the native species Murray hardyhead.

Mr La Nauze said ACF’s two-year review of the Basin Plan, Restoring our lifeblood: Progress on returning water to the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin, released in November last year, found progress towards some of the plan’s environmental goals was under threat.

“Governments must keep to the task of implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to safeguard the river system – which is the lifeblood of the nation, sustaining and supporting millions of Australians – before we face another big drought,” Mr La Nauze said

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