Despite the State Government’s strategies to mitigate the drought, outlined in the 2004 white paper: ‘Our Water Our Future,’ commitments to Victorian rivers are lacking.
The Government invests much energy in water saving through the implementation of a desalination plant, the Sugarloaf Pipeline, and water restrictions. Promises to increase environmental flows to Victoria’s fifteen main catchments however, have not come to pass.
Prior to this winter, “most rivers in Victoria…had 10 per cent of their normal flow,” says CEO of Environment Victoria, Kelly O’Shanassy. This amount, despite 2010 recording an above average winter rainfall, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, will not be enough to have a sustainable impact on water security.
Environment Victoria is concerned for the health of rivers’ organisms and the spread of toxic blooms like the Murray River experienced.
“Environmental systems should be protected,” says Sustainable Water Use Expert, Dr. Grace Mitchell, to avoid degradation to the point of malfunction.
Rivers in Northern Victoria are under particular stress. Goulburn, Victoria’s largest river, normally has “over 80 per cent of its flow…taken out for irrigation”, says O’Shanassy. Provision of water to irrigators and urban consumers, together with the drought, means little water remains.
The Government’s focus lies in securing water for consumers, not for rivers, says O’Shanassy. The Government should also commit to buying water to return to the rivers. “If you don’t have a healthy river, you can’t have secure water supply for consumers,” she says.
Environment Victoria wants water prices to contribute to the rehabilitation of rivers.