The Murray-Darling Declaration was signed on 5 February 2018 by 12 leading experts on the Basin.
The Declaration is about how to fix what is going wrong in the Murray-Darling Basin. It is not about politics or playing the ‘blame game’.
The signatories have come together to make the Declaration to highlight their real concerns and to offer solutions. There is no time to waste. The Basin remains in a poor state. While there have been improvements in specific sites, these have not resulted in measurable improvements in key environmental indicators at a basin scale.
As of February 2018, some $4 billion has been spent on water recovery infrastructure projects, but for many of these projects there is no scientific evidence that they have actually increased net stream flows, which was a key goal of water reform. Despite allocating half a billion dollars in 2007 to upgrade water meters in the Basin, as much as 75 per cent of all surface water diversions in the northern part of the Basin may still not have water meters.
Many aspects of water reform need to change, but three steps are necessary to fully deliver on the key objects of the Water Act (2007). These are:
(1) Stop any further expenditures on subsidies or grants for irrigation infrastructure in the Basin until there is an independent, scientific and economic audit of what $4 billion delivered in volumes of water and outcomes;
(2) Audit all Basin water recovery and planned Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustments including details of environmental water recovered, expenditures and actual environmental outcomes, especially in terms of stream flows at all special environmental assets, including the Murray Mouth and;
(3) Establish an independent and expert, scientific advisory body to monitor, measure and to public guide all governments to ensure the full achievement of key objects of the Water Act (2007), namely, (a) to ensure the return to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction for water resources that are over-allocated or overused; and (b) to protect, restore and provide for the ecological values and ecosystem services of the Murray-Darling Basin.
There is no time to waste for the Basin, its rivers, environments, traditional owners and communities. Our Declaration makes it clear what must be done.
Research shows the environment suffered a disproportionate impact with: losses of native fish populations; declining waterbird populations and poor bird-breeding events; loss of vegetation, especially in floodplain forests and wetlands; and high salt concentration at the end of the system from low stream flows in parts of the Basin.
It is more than five years since the Basin Plan was enacted and $6 billion has been spent on water recovery. Much more could have been achieved for far less because subsidising infrastructure to acquire water for the environment is, based on Australian government data, 2.5 times more expensive than buying water entitlements directly, and might be much more expensive after accounting for reductions in return flows.
Little evidence exists that key objects of the Water Act (2007) have been realised or key socio-cultural values been adequately supported.
We have joined together to sign the Declaration as we are deeply concerned by the state of the Murray-Darling Basin, and the policy that governs it.
We are 12 of Australia's leading experts on the Basin, covering a wide range of policy fields including economics, water policy, the environment and governance.