River communities must diversify for a sustainable future

murray-rNew business and community development opportunities funded by the Federal Government would lay the foundations for a sustainable economic future for Murray and Murrumbidgee river towns following a major water buyback, according to Flinders University researchers, Professor Chris Miller and Associate Professor Fiona Verity.

Professor Miller said funding for new economic and community infrastructure should be an integral part of the Federal Government’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be released shortly.

Professor Miller and Associate Professor Verity were co-authors of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists’ report entitled Sustainable Diversions in the Murray-Darling Basin released in early June. The report recommended a major water buy-back that would see 39 per cent less water available to irrigators and other users in the Murray system and a 65 per cent cut-back for Murrumbidgee users.

“There is no doubt that a significant reduction of water use is required if we ever to achieve the environmental flows required for a healthy and sustainable Murray and Murrumbidgee river system,” Professor Miller said.

“We have estimated that reducing water use by 3200 gigalitres (GL) would achieve that goal but such an outcome will require major adjustments the length and breadth of the river system,” he said.

“If our predictions around the water allocations are correct, those water catchment area communities will be hit fairly hard and our work is really saying that we shouldn’t leave those communities in that situation. We are arguing that it is really important to enable all of the members of those communities to come together to be part of the process in deciding what the future could look like for them.

“We believe changes can be achieved and create a positive and sustainable future for those river communities if they invest in technology and alternative business opportunities and community development.

“Support for new initiatives to help communities adjust to a future with less water could be provided by the Federal Government which has allocated $8.9 billion for water reform.

We have estimated that the 3200GL water buyback would cost an additional $2.7 billion, leaving up to $5 billion available to be invested in public infrastructure to assist the most affected communities.

‘With this financial support, some communities may decide to move out of irrigation and branch out into new industries. Others may prefer to consolidate their irrigation industry and use the funds to invest in new water technology or to add value to their products. However, this decision would be made for the benefit of the whole community, not just individual irrigators.

“Flinders University has developed a modelling system called Thriving Communities which could provide the basis for this new approach to community development”.

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