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Published: 13 March 2020   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 10 March 2020, less than 24 hours before the first flows made their way from the Darling River into Menindee Lakes. Members were delighted to welcome the stunning turn-around in weather conditions since the Authority met in February, with substantial rain in some communities and several rivers running after many months of low or zero flow. Although the drought is not considered to be broken and storage levels across the Basin remain low, the outlook is more positive with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting the possibility of greater than median rainfall this winter.

The flows from the northern Basin mean WaterNSW is likely to restart releases into the Lower Darling in coming weeks. Water in the Menindee Lakes is not accessible as a joint-government resource to supply the Murray system until levels in the lakes reach 640 gigalitres. However, the MDBA will help to ensure these early flows are carefully managed once they reach the Murray River at Wentworth to reduce any poor water quality impacts on communities and the environment.

Members welcomed the early priority given by the new Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, The Hon Keith Pitt MP, to travel through the southern Basin for a fresh perspective on the MDBA's Murray River operations and the industries, communities and diverse environmental needs of the river system. The Authority was grateful for the opportunity to meet the Minister in early March and looks forward to assisting him in his role including with visits as he engages more communities across the Basin in coming months.

The Authority discussed the several independent reviews currently underway related to the Murray-Darling Basin, including those focusing on the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement (Keelty Review), the operation of water markets (ACCC Review) and the lived experiences of towns, communities and people in the Basin (Independent Social and Economic Panel Review). The drought, climate change, bushfire recovery and other stresses are taking their toll as communities and industries are also dealing with decades of water reform. The Authority believes that everyone—governments, industry and communities—will benefit from this fresh analysis and the recommendations that will arise. The reviews will provide valuable insights to guide responses and the MDBA stands ready to work with Basin governments and communities to adjust and adapt.

Concern was expressed over the slow progress to complete the sustainable diversion limit adjustment (SDLAM) projects. These projects are fundamental to the recovery of water as required by the Water Act. While some projects are on track, several important ones are well behind schedule. The Authority will reassess progress again at its next meeting and consider what additional action needs to be taken. Members emphasised how important it is for all stakeholders to understand the consequences should the SDLAM projects not be delivered on time.

Members were pleased to recommend the final three water resource plans (WRPs) for Victoria to the Minister for accreditation and noted good progress in the finalisation of the ACT plans. They noted that Minister Pitt has restarted engagement with the NSW Minister for Water to progress the state's WRPs. The Authority looks forward to receiving advice from NSW on their intentions to submit their WRPs in coming weeks. In the interim, discussions have been initiated with NSW to re-negotiate the agreement to apply the Basin Plan sustainable diversion limits. A summary of progress with the accreditation of water resource plans will be available in the WRP Quarterly Report next week.  

The Authority stressed the importance of building the capacity of First Nations people to participate effectively in water management policy and decision-making through the two critical representative bodies in the Basin—the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN). MLDRIN and NBAN are key partners for government and industry for advice on First Nations' interests in water management. Authority members acknowledged the need to continue the enhancement of First Nations' representation and welcomes further discussion to determine how best to achieve this.

Members congratulated the joint governments and the MDBA staff on releasing the long-term Native Fish Recovery Strategy for public comment. The strategy aims to recover native fish, for both current and future generations. All sectors of the community are encouraged to provide feedback.

The Authority thanked the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder for a presentation on the use of opportunities to maximise the environmental benefit of recent rain in the northern Basin, with a focus on innovative use of water in the Narran Lakes. In an example of adaptive management as intended by the Basin Plan, water for the environment has been used to boost the health of the system in the most efficient way possible using knowledge and experience gained in the past decade.

ENDS

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