Plans to divert Murray River to Vic plains

A plan to divert water from the Murray River to flood plains in Victoria's northwest will improve the health of the region's deprived ecosystems, an inquiry has been told.

The Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project will push water from the river to more than 3000 hectares of flood plains at Hattah Lakes North and Belsar-Yungera near Mildura.

The project is a partnership between the Department of Transport and Planning, Parks Victoria, Lower Murray Water and other catchment authorities.

A standing inquiry, set up to advise the planning minister on the project's potential environmental effects, started on Tuesday.

Lower Murray Water's barrister Christopher Townshend told the inquiry the Murray River project was "wholly conceived for ecological benefits".

He said the diverted water would follow natural flood patterns, bringing water to "deprived" plains where 300-year-old trees are being left dry.

"Doing nothing is not an option," Mr Townshend said.

"A proper analysis of policy makes it clear ... reliance on the spilling of banks and natural flooding won't meet the needs of these plains."

Managed inundation could also protect more properties and infrastructure when the Murray River rises, Mr Townshend said.

Opponents of the plan are concerned it will allow the government to pump water out of the already stressed river and move it to big irrigators.

The inquiry is scheduled to run for four weeks, with Environment Victoria among the groups to make submissions.