LOCAL municipal councils have united to express disappointment over the call by a group of scientists to halt of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The group of 12 scientists - all who have backgrounds in water, environmental and economic management - are calling for a halt to all publicly-funded water recovery associated with irrigation subsidies and grants within the Basin until a comprehensive and independent audit of water recovery throughout the tributary is published.
The group released its Murray Darling Basin Declaration on Monday, which also outlines plans for the development of a publicly available, comprehensive and independent economic and scientific audit of all completed Basin water recovery efforts and a full scientific review of planned Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustments.
This review would need to look at details of environmental water recovered, expenditures and actual environmental outcomes, especially the effects on Basin stream flows.
The group is also calling for an adequately funded, expert, scientific and independent body to monitor, measure and give advice about delivery of the Water Act (2007), looking at hydrological and environmental changes, as well as comprehensive economic and scientific audits of the costs, benefits and outcomes of the Basin Plan and water recovery.
The Murray River Group of Councils - which comprises the Shires of Gannawarra, Loddon, Campaspe and Moira and the Mildura and Swan Hill Rural City Councils - has criticised the call, with its chairman, Cheryl McKinnon describing the intervention as "irresponsible".
"The assertions in this so-called declaration are simply wrong and shows that this group just don't understand the impact on the communities of the Basin," she said.
"The assertion that investment in irrigation infrastructure it is only providing benefits to irrigators is untrue and is offensive to the people who live in the Basin who have put in huge effort to provide water for the environment.
"Investment in infrastructure has been the only way of recovering water without decimating the industries of our region and the tens of thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihood."
Since its implementation in 2012, around 2100 gigalitres of water that had been used for irrigation purposes - including around 700 gigalitres of entitlements transferred to the Commonwealth from infrastructure investment - has been diverted for environmental needs.
"Recovering more water from northern Victoria would mean that with the next extended dry period, the viability of entire industries and irrigation districts would be at risk and may not recover," Cr McKinnon said.
"The recommendations of the so called declaration are invalid and represent an irresponsible intervention into the politics of the Basin Plan."