The majority of environmental water redirected from irrigators under the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan isn't being delivered to its intended wetland targets, with private land blocking the connections between rivers and floodplains, new research shows.
The research, published on Tuesday, found less than a quarter of the nearly 200,000 hectares of floodplains targeted with environmental water controlled by the Federal Government between 2014 and 2019 has actually delivered an effective flood, leaving crucial ecosystems heading towards collapse.
Professor Jamie Pittock, an expert in water management from the Australian National University, said the study was the first to look at what the Basin Plan sought to achieve for the environment and measure its progress, in totality.
"And sadly, that progress is lacking," Professor Pittock said.
Overall, only 2 per cent of all the wetlands throughout the Murray-Darling Basin that could be inundated with environmental water controlled by the Federal Government were actually watered each year, he said.
"This is a $13 billion reform program, and we think that the Australian public would expect a better rate of return than 2 per cent per year," he told the ABC.
The controlled flooding of wetlands is a central objective of the $13 billion plan. And restoring wetland ecosystems is a legal requirement under both the Australian Water Act and the Ramsar Convention, a near 50-year international agreement to conserve natural resources.
But the new research shows those intentional environmental floods are being stopped, mostly by towns and private farms.
Since agreements haven't been reached with about 3,300 farmers to allow the flooding to pass through private property, the environmental water isn't able to reach the wetlands.
"Unless these blockages to using the very limited amount of environmental water are removed, then the Basin Plan's environmental objectives will fail," Professor Pittock said.
Professor Pittock, the lead author of the research, said without change disadvantaged ecosystems would be lost.(ABC Canberra: Michael Black)