The Murray-Darling Basin is the lifeblood for our communities, wildlife, 20,000 farms and millions of people. For a time, it seemed like the mighty Murray and Darling rivers would never dry out.

Our governments let people take as much river water as they wanted. We straightened the rivers and controlled their flow with dams and locks.

But as more people came to the Basin and irrigation got bigger and more widespread, we took too much. Some were greedy and didn’t care about the people and wildlife living downstream. Eventually, we bled our rivers dry.

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Katarapko Creek, Wetlands, Murray River National Park, 2011. Photo: Betty Devine

For over a decade, local groups, the ACF community and people who cared campaigned for legislation to leave enough water in our rivers to keep them, and us, healthy.

Together, we cajoled our farming communities, the federal government and five different states to work together.

We did the official stuff – submissions, appearing at inquiries, lobbying all sides of politics at federal and state levels. And we did the unofficial stuff: town hall meetings, colourful protests on the steps of state parliaments, billboards and media stunts.

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'Murray the Cod Action' Media stunt outside Old Treasury Building, Spring Street, Melbourne Photo: James Thomas

Eventually we had a plan – the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP), which sets out fair rules about how much river water people can take.

Signed into law in late 2012, the MDBP pledged $10 billion to recover 3,200 billion litres – six times more water than is in Sydney Harbour – every year for the rivers and wetlands of the Basin.

The Plan reconnects the river with its floodplains and makes sure there’s enough river water to flow all the way from the Great Dividing Range to the sea. It promises healthier rivers and wetlands, wildlife and communities.

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Murray River Ambassadors Program, 2017. Photo: David Sickerdick

But having a plan is one thing; making our governments follow it it is another.

Today, a handful of cashed-up lobbyists are campaigning against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They’re trying to erode it, bit by bit, so they can take as much river water as they want.

So we are keeping the pressure on our governments to finish what they started. To put the interests of our rivers and rural communities ahead of corporate self interest. If we do it right, we will be able to keep swimming and fishing in our rivers – and the mighty Murray will flow all the way to the sea.

Over 50 years, ACF and our community have had some incredible wins. We advocated against polluting projects like the Jabiluka uranium lease. We won World Heritage listing for the Reef and Kakadu. We protected places we all love, like the Franklin River, Antarctica and the Murray-Darling. We stood with Traditional Owners to hand back country and farmers to pioneer Landcare. We won billions for clean energy and led Australia's biggest climate march, helping to win a global pollution agreement.

Our Murray-Darling Campaign

Paul Sinclair

Campaigns Director at the Australian Conservation Foundation.