Murray Darling Basin Declaration – Professor Sarah Wheeler

In the first week of February a group of senior water scientists and economists called for urgent action to address Murray-Darling Basin issues in a joint Declaration.

The signatories were concerned that $6 billion dollars in water recovery has been spent over the past decade, with $3.5 billion of this on irrigation infrastructure (on and off farm) and $2.5 billion on buying water entitlements directly. Per megalitre of water returned, infrastructure projects were 2.5 times more expensive than buying water back. Despite being over three quarters of the way towards the target for water recovery, there has been very little improvement in long-term decline in many environmental indicators. Actual net increases in stream flows are much less than water recovered because of i) reductions in reflows from improved irrigation efficiency; ii) double-counting of water from increases in utilisation of entitlements and iii) water theft. With $4 billion still committed to current and future irrigation on-farm and supply infrastructure, the scientists and economists who signed this Declaration remain concerned that the proposed social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes are not being achieved.

The Murray-Darling Declaration calls for three steps to fix water reform for the Basin and its communities:

  • Stop all publicly funded water recovery associated with irrigation infrastructure subsidies and grants;
  • A publicly available, independent audit of all Basin water recovery and planned water use limitations, including details of environmental water recovered, expenditures and actual environmental outcomes;
  • Establish an independent and expert body to monitor, measure and to publicly guide the delivery of the Water Act (2007).

The 12 signatories to the declaration are leading experts on the Basin and who, collectively, have made major contributions to Basin research over many decades. They are: Professors Henning Bjornlund, Jeff Connor and Lin Crase (University of South Australia), Richard Davis (formerly Chief Science Advisor to the National Water Commission), Professor Quentin Grafton (Australian National University), Dr Graham Harris (Foundation Chief of CSIRO Land and Water and Honorary Professorial Fellow University of Wollongong), Associate Professor Darla Hatton MacDonald (University of Tasmania), Professor Richard Kingsford (University of New South Wales), Associate Professor David Paton AM (University of Adelaide), Professor John Quiggin (University of Queensland), Professor Sarah Wheeler (University of Adelaide) and Adjunct Professor John Williams (ANU, and former Head of CSIRO Land & Water, and former Natural Resources Commissioner, NSW).

The Declaration, with details of the current state of the Basin, is at:


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