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Published: 03 September 2020   •   Communiques

A meeting of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority was held on 2-3 September by video teleconference. All members were present. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The Authority received an update from Executive Director of River Management, Andrew Reynolds on water availability and the climate outlook, as well as a summary of key water operational activities. Of significance was the Bureau of Meteorology's ENSO Outlook issued on 18 August 2020 indicating that the chance of La Niña forming in 2020 is about 70% or roughly three times the average likelihood. It is welcoming to see the three-month rainfall outlook for September to November is for wetter than average conditions in the northern Basin.

The Authority remains focussed on boosting climate adaptation preparedness and took time during a workshop to consider Basin risks and vulnerabilities to climate change. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for water management in Australia. Lower inflows and more frequent extreme events are placing significant pressure on already stressed water resources. There are many stakeholders involved in improving our resilience to climate change and the MDBA will work in partnership with Basin governments, industry, stakeholders and Basin communities in the coming months.

Members reviewed and considered advice as part of the 2020 Basin Plan evaluation which will be released publicly later this year. This analysis has been drawn from a wide range of sources including river operators, the science community, independent advisors, various reviews and the Commonwealth and state governments. It includes on-ground measurement of environmental health, trends in irrigation and socio-economic conditions. The Basin Plan 2020 evaluation will report on the effectiveness of the Basin Plan, unintended consequences and areas for improvement.

The Authority is giving high priority to the assessment of NSW Water Resource Plans and is devoting additional resources to this work. Members reviewed the Macquarie Castlereagh alluvium and Lachlan alluvium and surface water resource plans. Each plan needs to meet the 55 requirements laid out in the Basin Plan before the Authority can recommend them to the Federal Water Minister for accreditation. The COVID pandemic is delaying engagement with First Nations people which is requirement in Part 14 of the Basin Plan. The MDBA continues to work cooperatively with New South Wales to progress the assessment as timely as possible given the unforeseen circumstances.

Members were delighted to receive an update from Chair of the Basin Community Committee (BCC), Phil Duncan. Mr Duncan spoke about the committee's 12-month work plan, which includes a renewed emphasis on putting communities at the heart of the plan and water management. He acknowledged the challenges of engaging with communities because of COVID-19 and outlined how the committee is supporting each other through this time.

The MDBA works closely with all stakeholders including the science community. Members welcomed the recent analysis from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists noting there are several potential underlying causes of reduced flow that require further investigation. We always welcome the scientific community's views about where things can be improved and will continue to engage in joint efforts to make the Basin Plan better.

The Authority noted the release of the first snapshot of River Murray flows which is all part of the MDBA's commitment to make information available in an open and transparent way. This overview of how much water is in the river for the environment and how it's been used will be released monthly.

The MDBA continues to work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), and welcomed the newly appointed Deputy Secretary, for Water Climate Adaptation, Natural Disasters and Antarctic Group at DAWE, Ms Lyn O'Connell. Ms O'Connell was accompanied by Ms Rachel Connell, First Assistant Secretary, Water Division at DAWE.

Finally, members welcomed an update on the strong progress the MDBA has made in reaching its regionalisation target of 103 staff located within the Basin by mid-2021. As of end of August, the MDBA has over 70 staff working in regional offices.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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