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Published: 15 August 2019   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 13-14 August 2019 in Dubbo, New South Wales. The Authority agreed to recommend two new water resource plans to the Minister for Water Resources for accreditation, published an independent review of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Accounting Framework, and met with local community representatives to hear community perspectives. 

Members acknowledged the recent meeting of the Council of Australian Governments that brought into focus the nation's reliance on the Basin and the importance of ongoing water reform. In particular, the Authority welcomed the Council's response to the unrelenting drought afflicting the Basin, and their recommitment to securing the health of the Basin by implementing the Basin Plan in full.

The Authority welcomed the creation of the new position of Inspector General to oversee Basin-wide compliance, and welcomed the appointment of Mick Keelty as the interim Inspector General. Members committed to cooperating fully with the Inspector General to build trust and transparency in water management, noting the position will strengthen the MDBA's extensive compliance work program.

Members and MDBA staff joined representatives from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) and the Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholder Association for a tour of the Macquarie Marshes. The Authority was able to see first-hand the impacts of drought on the region, and visited a range of key ecological sites including the Methalibar Weir Pool drought refuge and environmental watering site, and the Northern Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve. The Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholder Association tabled a statement of concerns for the Authority's consideration.

Authority Chair Joanna Hewitt hosted the fourth in a series of ‘Basin and Eggs' breakfast discussions, with this session focussing on the theme of resilience. Community members joined the Authority to hear from NSW DPIE Manager of Business Resilience Programs Pip Job, solar irrigation farmer and NSW Rural Women's Award finalist Karin Stark and Griffith University ecologist and Authority member Professor Stuart Bunn about the importance of community, industry and ecological resilience in a region affected by drying climate, drought and water reform.

The Authority appreciated the opportunity in Dubbo for discussion with representatives of the Macquarie region of New South Wales. The Macquarie River Food and Fibre's Executive Officer Mr Grant Tranter and Chair Mr Tony Quigley briefed members on the positive community impacts of the modernisation of the Trangie-Nevertire irrigation scheme, and noted ongoing issues for local industries and communities resulting from implementation of the Basin Plan.

Valuable insights from local government were also provided by the Narromine Mayor Craig Davies, and Warren Mayor Milton Quigley and General Manager Mr Glenn Wilcox, and the Orana Water Utilities Alliance via a statement. The Authority welcomed the views of local representatives because it deepens members' understanding of the community's most pressing issues. At this meeting, there was strong emphasis on the compounded impacts of water recovery and drought on community resilience, local implementation of the Northern Basin commitments package and accounting of water for the environment.

The Authority noted that the Independent Social and Economic Assessment Panel has released a draft framework for its assessment of social and economic conditions in the Basin. The assessment will consider the impacts of water reform on communities, and importantly will identify strategies that have the best potential to enhance resilience and wellbeing for the future. The Authority encouraged communities to engage with the assessment process.

Pressure on the Basin's people and environment due to the continuing drought is weighing heavily across the Basin, with the 2019-20 water year starting with substantially less water in storage compared with one year ago. An update on Murray River water resources emphasised the drought preparations underway for the Murray system, which included waiving of the end of May storage target for Lake Victoria in order to reduce evaporative losses by storing more water in Dartmouth Dam.

Members noted the states are providing low or zero allocations to many of their licence holders and that the differences between states' allocation systems were expected to remain a contentious issue for all water holders until water availability improves. Members noted the ongoing efforts to ensure delivery of environmental water to build drought resilience at key ecological sites. Members also heard that the risk of a delivery shortfall for 2019–20 remains, but is expected to be lower than last year.

A presentation on the Sustainable Diversion Limit accounting framework included the results of an independent review of the framework, the publication of which was approved by Authority members. They noted that work has commenced on the development of a work plan to address the issues raised by the independent review.

The Authority members discussed with the Chair of the MDBA's independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACSEES), Professor Rob Vertessy, its current work program, including the recent climate change workshop and emerging issues related to the Lower Lakes. The Authority noted that Basin communities are increasingly highlighting how climate change is affecting the Basin. The Authority welcomed the recent appointment of Dr Neil Byron to ACSEES.

Progress by state governments to prepare their water resource plans for assessment by the MDBA was discussed, including the critical importance of the states' commitment to deliver their plans in accordance with the Basin Plan. The Authority decided to recommend the Victorian Wimmera-Mallee surface water and groundwater plans for accreditation by the Minister for Water. They noted that while several other plans were close to being ready for the Minister to consider, the evident risk of further delays needed to be closely managed. The Authority also agreed to publish a statement on groundwater management, which sets clear expectations for protection of this precious resource. The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 10-11 September in Canberra.


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