Basin plan finds common ground

GRAZIERS in the Macquarie Marshes have a grin from ear to ear after the signing into law of a plan that they never imagined would see the light of day.

Their spokesman, chairman of the Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association Garry Hall, yesterday welcomed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on their behalf, certain that it would benefit the 200,000 hectares of wetlands.

"Ten years ago we never dreamed of it happening," he said.

"It was a bold move to get the Water Act through the parliament, and its great to see the plan signed into law."

That's not to say that the association is content with every aspect of the plan.

Detail dissatisfaction has the graziers sharing common ground with Macquarie River Food and Fibre (MRFF), the peak body for irrigators in the valley.

The landholders in the Macquarie Marshes are concerned about the time lapse before implementation of the plan's surface water sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) and hesitant to accept that the likes of infrastructure can achieve sufficient environmental inflows in a reasonable amount of time.

"We prefer the purchase of water from willing buyers as opposed to infrastructure upgrades and stock and domestic schemes," Mr Hall said.

MRFF executive officer Susan Madden has a different story to tell.

"MRFF welcomes the sensible approach to setting groundwater SDLs which accepts the work that the NSW government has done in the Upper and Lower Macquarie groundwater sources," she said.

"With respect to surface water SDLs, while MRFF welcomes the recognition that investment in infrastructure and environmental works and measures is the best way to acquire water entitlements, we are disappointed that the government has stopped short of including a cap on further water buybacks."

Ms Madden reiterated that 30 per cent of general security entitlement in the Macquarie River system already had been transferred to the environment.

"MRFF is looking to the implementation phase of the basin plan to address outstanding questions surrounding environmental water management and the mitigation of social and economic impacts," she said.

"The political imperative for the federal government has been to present a plan to parliament by the end of 2012. Unfortunately this focus has meant that many of the technical issues that MRFF and other regionally-based representative groups have raised throughout the planning process remain unresolved.

"To be honest, we are looking forward to an end to the politicking and a chance to get some regional input and trust into the roll-out of this plan. "We are already looking to the implementation phase and in-built review processes as an opportunity to do this."

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan aims to return 2750 gigalitres to the river system by 2019, and a further 450 gigalitres by 2024.

The Federal Water Minister signed the $11 billion plan into law on Thursday, but it must pass through the parliament where The Greens are reported to be mounting a challenge.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority recommended 2750 gigalitres be restored to the basin, much less than the 4000 gigalitres argued for by environmental scientists.

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