Last week the Council of Australian Governments signed a historic agreement that is good for Australia, the health of the Murray River and Victoria; in short, an agreement for common sense.
First, COAG agreed on the creation of a single authority to manage the Murray. This will ensure the river's management is in the hands of one independent body.
Second, the meeting secured a commonwealth commitment to invest a further $3.7 billion in irrigation infrastructure across the basin states. That is funding for projects across Australia, such as Victoria's Food Bowl Modernisation Project that will repair our leaky, old irrigation infrastructure and produce up to 425 billion litres of water savings, 80 per cent of which will be shared between stressed rivers and drought-affected farmers.
Third, and important for Victoria, retaining the annual 4 per cent cap on water being permanently traded out of irrigation districts will protect our rural communities. This ensures extensive community consultation occurs before any changes to the cap are considered at the end of 2009.
All Murray-Darling states and the commonwealth are in complete agreement that the Murray River system is in poor health and must be saved. We need lasting commonsense solutions, not just well-meaning statements.
More than any other state, Victoria is putting its money on the table to save the Murray: we are investing in the $2 billion Food Bowl Modernisation Project.
Also, Victoria has committed 214 billion litres of water to the Murray through the Living Murray Initiative. We are the only state on track to meet its commitments on this. This is because during the past decade Victoria has made the difficult decisions to invest in vital water infrastructure and not to over-allocate water, so that our state has the most secure supply of water.
Last week, some commentators called for water to be flushed down the Murray River to save the Lower Lakes in South Australia.
But from where? It is estimated that about 1,200 billion litres of water would be needed: 370 billion litres initially to fill Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert to a minimum level, then another 800 billion litres to maintain water levels throughout summer when evaporation losses are extreme.
But farmers in Victoria have a zero per cent allocation in the Goulburn and Murray irrigation districts. And there is no additional water available in the upper Murray without taking water for essential human needs away from rural communities.
The best and most certain way to ensure more water for environmental flows is to invest in new irrigation and pipe systems along with other water-saving infrastructure, thereby reducing system losses and saving water presently lost to evaporation, wastage and seepage.
So lifting the 4 per cent cap immediately is not the answer; this would simply shut down Victorian farms and rural communities and still not deliver enough water to save the Lower Lakes.
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