The rivers and associated natural environments of the Murray–Darling Basin are also important social and economic assets to the communities in the Basin, supporting local economies and sense of wellbeing. The environmental flows provided by the Basin Plan deliver improvements for Basin communities through improved water quality, see maintaining water quality, and improvements in the river ecology to support industries like commercial and recreational fishing and eco-tourism, or other recreational activities such as camping.
For many people the benefits of healthier rivers and wetlands, for example sense of place, psychological wellbeing and local identity, are the most important outcomes. While these effects are difficult to quantify interviews conducted by the MDBA point to their importance for people living in riverside communities.
'If I go back say 30 years on the Lachlan, I think that the environmental flow management has actually been a positive thing now compared to then. We had periods where I can certainly remember no water flowing through the Lachlan. Admittedly, we're not in drought currently, but two years ago we pretty much were. So, we're seeing better fish life, better bird life actually along the rivers. Even on our pump sites. That's noticeable, even the workers that have worked with me here for the last 20 years – they comment on it.' Irrigator, Lachlan
An example of the flow on benefits of environmental watering for industry is shown through the development of tourism in Renmark, which is a major regional centre in South Australia. Renmark was Australia's first irrigation settlement and remains highly dependent on irrigated agriculture with wine grapes and citrus the main crops grown. Over the past two decades this dependence has left the town exposed to a range of changes within these agricultural industries. These have included a high Australian dollar, low water availability during the millennium drought and low farm gate prices for wine grapes.
River-based tourism in Renmark is growing, with the town developing accommodation and recreational services for a range of tourists. Tourism operators have reported that environmental watering is underpinning this development by providing confidence to invest in tourism businesses that depend on the health of the Riverland and its wetlands.
This investment has led to tourism in the region growing year-on-year since 2011. Last year tourists spent $148 million in the Riverland and the tourism industry has become a major employer in the region with 700 people directly employed. The growth in tourism has supported food and beverage businesses, including wineries and a brewery that are adding value to the locally produced food and wine.
'I just think overall that's given a level of confidence for people to invest more in river-based tourism. I think had things continued … the way things were going at the end of the millennium drought and without the water reforms leading for more water for the environment I don't think there would be the level of confidence to invest in new business. So, overall I think we're seeing diversification in our economy in this region as a result of the Basin Plan, and diversification, you'd appreciate, away from purely irrigation into other enterprises that don't extract water from the river.' Tourism Operator, Renmark