Basin Plan ‘surprises’ world’s top scientists

July 13, 2017

The manner in which Australia has approached the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has surprised international scientists.

That was a message from renowned environmental scientist Professor Peter Gell, who addressed a forum in Deniliquin on June 29.

Professor Gell returned last month from the Society of Wetlands Scientists annual meeting in Peuro Rico, USA, where he was a guest presenter.

He told the forum that scientists from throughout the world are “surprised” that Australia is spending $13 billion on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and expecting it to be implemented in 12 years.

He gave an example of the Everglades Restoration Plan in Florida, USA, which is expected to cost $10 billion and be implemented over about 50 years. It has been designed to preserve and protect the South Florida ecosystem, while providing for other water-related needs of the region including water supply and food protection.

Also addressing the forum was renowned meteorologist and weather presenter Jane Bunn, whose predictions were not as positive as they were during her 2016 visit to Deniliquin, which was followed by one of the wettest springs on record.

Ms Bunn believes from a rainfall perspective this is likely to be more a “neutral year”, though she hoped some cold fronts could be accompanied by reasonable falls.

Professor Gell has said that historically the RAMSAR listed Coorong was not fed by fresh water from the Murray River.

He argues the Coorong was initially a tidal system, and its ecology changed with the construction of the Goolwa barrages in the 1930s. His findings are from core samples carried out in the Coorong, dating back up to 7,000 years.

He explained the barrages turned the Coorong from a productive estuarine system to a turbid environment with increased salinity, adding ‘‘ultimately, they have collapsed the system ecologically’’. He said leading scientist argue the description of wetlands such as the Coorong needs to be adjusted as new information becomes available.

Professor Gell’s research supports strong locally held beliefs that the Basin Plan needs to be adjusted so that traditional tidal flows, rather than only freshwater upstream flows, play a key role in achieving end of system environmental objectives.

The event which was attended by 120 people was held at Deniliquin Golf Club, was presented by West Berriquin Irrigators Inc. with support from Deniliquin Freighters and other businesses.

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