Rudd Government assurances that water ripped out of the Murray-Darling Basin and piped to Melbourne would be matched by increased environmental flows appear to have been exposed as baseless, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
The proposed extraction of up to 75 billion litres of water a year towards Melbourne’s urban water supply has previously been defended on the basis that it was just a third of the expected annual savings of 225 billion litres through irrigation infrastructure upgrades.
The ‘Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project’ was to deliver a three-way split of up to an extra 75 billion litres each to urban Melbourne via the Sugarloaf or ‘North-South’ pipeline, to increased environmental flows in the Murray and also to Victorian irrigators.
Under questioning in Senate Additional Estimates, however, neither Water Minister Penny Wong nor departmental officials have been able to outline just where the amount extracted is contingent on the increased environmental flows being delivered by Victoria’s upgrades.
“The approval conditions for this pipeline going ahead appear so loosely written you can drive a water truck through them,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“The best an official could give me was that the figure of 75 billion litres had been derived from dividing 225 by 3. No answer was forthcoming as to where the conditions make the 75 billion litres dependent on the much needed extra flows being delivered to the Murray.
“Sadly, it looks as though the Rudd Government’s approval conditions are simply not worth the paper they’re written on in terms of ensuring the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.
“They in fact appear to give free reign for Victoria to pipe every drop of any savings up to 75 billion litres off to Melbourne without guaranteeing a single extra drop to the Murray.
“Victoria’s recalcitrant approach to national water reform means they simply cannot be taken at their word about savings going into environmental flows first.
“The security of any savings for the environment must be clarified immediately for all those who care about and depend on the Murray-Darling Basin.
“The Rudd Government must demonstrate exactly where its conditional approval for the pipeline guarantees savings going towards environmental flows, and what powers have been reserved to enforce such flows, or else fix the mess immediately.”
 Last September’s approval decision and attached conditions can be found online at: