Expectations that it’s possible to reduce the amount of water returned to the environment by 500 gigalitres or more under Murray-Darling Basin Plan adjustment measures could soon be dashed when the plans are subjected to rigorous scientific analysis, the Australian Conservation Foundation warned today.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority today released a stocktake of adjustment measures that could offset the recovery of real water for rivers.

But plans submitted under the sustainable diversion limits adjustment process must be verified by a thorough scientific analysis developed by the CSIRO.

“The Basin Plan is about restoring the natural connections in our once mighty river systems – reconnecting rivers with their floodplains and the mountains to the sea,” said ACF’s healthy ecosystems campaigner Dr Arlene Harriss-Buchan.

“People should not get ahead of themselves by thinking all these proposals will pass the rigorous science test that must be applied to all these plans,” she said.

“You simply cannot keep the mouth of the Murray open by giving the river less water.

“Government modelling shows the Murray Mouth will close over and the Coorong will suffer toxic salinity levels if the Basin Plan provides less than 3,200 gigalitres of environmental water.

“As we live with the reality of a drying climate this is the minimum the river needs.

“On the basis of this modelling South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill negotiated with other Basin governments to set aside his historic high court challenge in exchange for a guarantee of enough water to keep the Coorong healthy and the Murray Mouth open.

“The Basin Authority’s stocktake has identified some interesting proposals to change river operating rules that could result in a win-win for irrigators and the environment.

“We urge the Authority to concentrate its efforts on river operating rules rather than on risky engineering projects that assume concrete and steel can take the place of real water flowing in rivers and creeks,” Dr Harriss-Buchan said.

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