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Update: Hearing on Murray River wetland artificial engineering projects

EJA senior specialist lawyer and ecosystem team lead, Ellen Maybery, has spent the past few weeks appearing at a hearing about the Victorian government’s plans to artificially engineer the Murray River at two key wetlands.

Representing Environment Victoria , EJA lawyers have previously raised concerns that the consequences of these projects, designed to let irrigators take even more water, could devastate the entire river system – and all of us who depend on water for life.

We will argue all new plans for the already fragile Murray Darling Basin must keep water in the river, include the knowledge and leadership of Traditional Owners, and look at the river system as a whole – not just address isolated sections while sacrificing the rest.

We are part way through a 10-day hearing on the potential environmental effects of two proposals to artificially engineer critical wetlands on the Murray River at Hattah Lakes and Belsar-Yungera. These proposals are two of nine Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP) proposals.

Since 17 January, EJA lawyers have attended six days of online hearings.

So far, we’ve heard from Lower Murray Water, the project proponent, about the complicated construction works involved in their proposals which involve manipulating the environment with new regulators, containment banks, pumps, pipelines and tracks.

Presentations on behalf of the proponent have provided a timely reminder of the history of human intervention in, and irrigation of, the Murray River and the extensive detrimental impacts this has had on the environment. We’ve heard that the nine VMFRP sites have been chosen as the “jewels in the crown” along the Victorian Murray River.

We have also heard from the proponent’s experts in surface water, groundwater, aquatic ecology, flora, fauna and bushfires.

EJA lawyers have been cross-examining these experts, on behalf of our client Environment Victoria

 

 

    Generally, we’re hearing from them that something needs to change to save Murray River ecosystems on the brink of collapse. But some experts have told us that natural flood events are preferred to managing inundation through construction.

    We’ve been asking questions about how plants and animals will be impacted by the proposed works, about the risks to the future health of the river (due to things like blackwater and Carp events) and the extent to which Traditional Owner aspirations have been specifically factored into the project.

    We’ve also been asking about what the projects will mean for other parts of the Murray River, because the projects will be relied upon by the government to justify giving less crucial water to the environment and diverting this to increase water for irrigators.

    The hearing continues until 8 February. EJA will be making oral submissions on 2 February. After the hearing, the committee will provide recommendations to the Planning Minister who will make an assessment of the environmental effects of the projects. Assessments of the other seven VMFRP sites will continue throughout 2023.

    For our client, we’ll keep working to ensure governments deliver genuine science-based solutions that actually deliver the water our red gums, wetlands, birds and communities need.

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