The Living Murray (TLM) is one of Australia’s most significant river restoration programs. Established in 2002, TLM is a partnership of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). The long-term goal of this program is to achieve a healthy working River Murray system for the benefit of all Australians.
The Living Murray aims to improve the environmental health of six icon sites (Figure : Location of The Living Murray icon sites) that were chosen for their significant ecological, cultural, recreational, heritage and economic values:
Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay–Wallpolla Islands (including Mulcra Island)
Through its First Step water recovery initiative, TLM has acquired a water portfolio consisting of environmental water entitlements. As of November 2013, there was 486.1 GL long-term Cap Equivalent (LTCE), with a further 2 GL LTCE to be recovered by projects still being implemented2. The actual volume of water available against these entitlements is dependent on the allocations.
This portfolio will be used to achieve environmental objectives at the icon sites. Regulating structures, water delivery channels and fishways, known as works and measures, will deliver and manage the environmental water at the icon sites.
The Living Murray aims to align itself to the requirements of the Basin Plan Environmental Watering Plan in the future.
Further information on The Living Murray is available on the MDBA website at www.mdba.gov.au.
Figure : Location of The Living Murray icon sites
1.2 The Living Murray Icon Site Environmental Water Management Plans
This Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth Environmental Water Management Plan establishes priorities for the use of TLM water within the icon site, identifies environmental objectives and targets (where appropriate), water delivery options and regimes that can utilise The Living Murray water portfolio for the site.
The development of the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth Environmental Water Management plan has been coordinated by the MDBA in consultation with the Environmental Watering Group to ensure a consistent approach to planning and management across the icon sites.
The revised plan builds on previous iterations of the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth Environmental Water Mangement Plan (previously known as ‘environmental management plans’) and incorporates consultation, research into icon site key species, learnings from water behaviour modelling and outcomes from previous environmental waterings.
The Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth Environmental Water Management Plan reflects the larger volume now held in The Living Murray water portfolio, uses TLM works and measures (i.e. barrage fishways, where construction is completed) and the monitoring information gathered at the icon site to make informed decisions about environmental watering.
1.3 Planning context and legislation framework
There are a range of legislation, agreements and policies that provide direction for the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth icon site. The following is a summary of those agreements and legislation that is directly relevant to the management of the icon site.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention) is an international treaty with the broad aim of halting the worldwide loss of wetlands and to conserve, through wise use and management, those that remain. For wetlands to be listed as Ramsar wetlands, they need to be representative, rare or unique in terms of their ecological, botanical, zoological, limnological or hydrological importance. Ramsar-listed wetlands can be natural, artificial, permanent or temporary swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, salt marshes or mudflats classified as wetlands.
Signatories to the Ramsar Convention, including Australia, are required to formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of wetlands included in the Ramsar list, and as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in their territory. This includes recognition of, and support for, Indigenous cultural values associated with wetlands. This planning is completed in the form of an Ecological Character Description which is then used by site managers to manage the sites values. The Ecological Character Description is currently under revision by Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR). Managing the ecological character of the site is a requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as a matter of national environmental significance (DSEWPC 2009) and is an obligation for State and Commonwealth governments to manage.
Bilateral Migratory Bird Agreements
Over the past 30 years Australia has signed three bilateral migratory bird agreements in an effort to conserve migratory birds in the east Asian and Australian regions: China–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (signed in 1986); Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (signed in 1974); and the Republic of Korea – Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (came into effect in 2007).
These agreements protect terrestrial, water and shorebird species that migrate from Australia to Japan or China. The Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement also provides for cooperation on the conservation of threatened birds, while the Republic of Korea–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement ensures conservation of migratory birds and collaboration on the protection of migratory shorebirds and their habitat (D SEW PC 2009).
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations in September 2007 and ratified by the Australian Government in April 2009. The Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, lands, waters and other issues. It also "emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations". In accordance with Articles 19, 25 & 32 Indigenous people must have a central role in the development, implementation and evaluation of policy and legislative or administrative measures that concern water.
The Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council established TLM in 2002. In 2004, the Australian Government and the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Addressing Water Over-allocation and Achieving Environmental Objectives in the Murray–Darling Basin, which gave effect to a funding commitment (made in 2003) of $500 million over five years for TLM. The Living Murray program’s First Step aimed to recover 500 GL of water for the River Murray and focused on improving the environment at the six icon sites. A supplementary Intergovernmental Agreement was signed in 2006 which provided increased funding of $200m to The Living Murray.
The Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray–Darling Basin Reform, signed by the Council of Australian Governments, aims to:
promote and co-ordinate effective planning and management for the equitable, efficient and sustainable use of the water and other natural resources of the Murray–Darling Basin (COAG 2008).
This Agreement was the foundation for the Water Act2007, which established the MDBA whose role is to manage the Basin's water resources through the development of a Basin plan.
The Kungun Ngarrindjeri Yunnan Agreement (Listen to Ngarrindjeri people talking) between Ngarrindjeri and the South Australian Government was set in place to frame the Ngarrindjeri strategy for negotiating Ngarrindjeri interests in natural resource management and, in particular, the South Australian Government’s long-term plan for the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth. This is a legal, binding agreement entered into between Ngarrindjeri and various Ministers of the Crown in South Australia to articulate the rights and obligations flowing between them in relation to the subject matter of the agreement. Recital D (KNY 2009) provides an indication of the intentions of the agreement:
D. The Ministers have expressed a desire for a new relationship between the State of South Australia and Ngarrindjeri based upon mutual respect and trust acknowledging that Ngarrindjeri consider protection and maintenance of culture and cultural sites upon its land and water central in every respect to Ngarrindjeri community wellbeing and existence.
This agreement provides for the establishment and funding of a joint taskforce, thereby creating a formal context for the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to negotiate regarding South Australian Government programs on Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar. The agreement also includes recognition of Ngarrindjeri traditional ownership, recognition of the NRA as the Ngarrindjeri peak body, and an agreement to negotiate on key, long-held Ngarrindjeri objectives such as the hand-back of the Coorong National Park.
Ngarrindjeri Regional Partnership Agreement with the Federal and South Australian Governments
A Regional Partnership Agreement between the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, the Australian Government and the State Government of South Australia was signed in July 2008. It was re-signed and extended in 2011. Its aim is to support the development of Ngarrindjeri caring for country programs in combination with sustainable economic development. It specifically addresses the need to increase Ngarrindjeri participation in all aspects of environmental governance in the region. In signing the agreement the State and Federal government and the Ngarrindjeri have agreed to work together in partnership to share responsibility for building the environmental, social and economic assets in the Ngarrindjeri region.