Environment Minister Tony Burke
Environment Minister Tony Burke

Research delves into water targets

NEW research from a leading environmental expert has challenged the Federal Government's water targets for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Australian National University Crawford academic Dr Jamie Pittock led a team which examined the Government's environmental water targets to return 2750 gigalitres to Australian wetlands in the basin.

Dr Pittock said the research revealed the $280 million Living Murray program would only maintain small areas of wetlands, and could potentially cause "negative environmental effects and failing with climate change".

The research was released on the same day Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke moved to satisfy concerns about the environmental water targets by releasing modelling by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Mr Burke said the modelling showed while the environmental targets were relaxed, they would still improve the environment in South Australia's Coorong, Lower Lakes and the Murray River mouth.

But Dr Pittock said the engineering works proposed to help more water go to the wetlands "has big risks that the Australian Government has failed to recognise".

Despite the considerable public money invested, Dr Pittock said that to date the works only enabled watering of 0.6%of the basin's wetlands when the same funds could purchase nearly 2.5% of the water needed to sustain the river ecosystem.

"The government has either failed to identify or glossed over the negative impacts of their proposed infrastructure, including watering of non-target wetlands, reducing water quality through salinity and blackwater events, and trapping fish," he said.

"Inexplicably, the Government has not considered how their works would sustain the ecosystems with any reduction of water availability with climate change.

"They need to be more careful to quantify the costs, as well as the benefits, before gambling on engineering works as the way to maintain the ecological health of the Murray-Darling Basin."