Crucial checkpoint finds Basin Plan cushioned Murray-Darling from worst drought on record, but more effort is needed

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s review of the Basin Plan shows there has been good outcomes since the Plan’s inception in 2012, while also highlighting the need for more effort to achieve a healthy Basin that supports prosperous industries and communities.

The 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation is the most extensive review written into the Basin Plan. It has involved the science community, river operators, independent advisors and input from Basin governments. It has also drawn on feedback provided by communities, industries, environmental interest groups and First Nations alongside insights from the range of independent reviews that have occurred in the Basin.

Chief Executive of the MDBA, Phillip Glyde said a reform of this kind has not been attempted anywhere else in the world.

“The enormity of the task to bring water take back into balance is unmistakeable, and the progress made in the past eight years is something Basin communities and governments should all be proud of,” Mr Glyde said.

“This evaluation marks a crucial checkpoint in the roll out of the Basin Plan and clearly outlines where the achievements have been made, but also where more effort and action is needed.

“For the first time, we’ve used our satellite technology and data visualisation, to show timescale impacts of the reform which bring to life the outcomes seen on the ground.”

The roll out of the Basin Plan coincided with the worst drought on record, that saw many parts of the northern Basin experience the hottest and driest years on record and lowest inflows on record.

“The evidence shows that the Basin Plan has cushioned the Murray-Darling Basin from the impacts of this most recent drought – without water for the environment, the impact on the health of the Basin would have been more damaging and long-lasting,” Mr Glyde said.

“In the face of climate challenges, we have still seen good progress and outcomes that should be celebrated.

“In the past five years environmental water has supported 25,000 kilometres of rivers, 28,000 hectares of lakes, 158,000 hectares of wetlands and around 100,000 hectares of floodplains. It has helped to maintain 11 of the 16 Ramsar sites in the Basin, supported over 1 million waterbirds, promoted vegetation diversity across the Basin supporting more than 640 species and supported native fish spawning and migration.

“Limits on water use are now in place, and 13 water resource plans are in place for Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

“Compliance arrangements were fast-tracked as a result of community concerns, and there have been significant improvements in water metering, monitoring and accounting.

“The evaluation has found that the Basin Plan has achieved positive social, economic and cultural outcomes overall, but some areas have suffered from changes the Basin Plan has triggered.

“There are important differences in the distribution of impacts on communities, ranging from significant negative impacts on some small regional communities to generally positive impacts on most other communities. These smaller regional communities need targeted help to adapt and diversify,” Mr Glyde said.

Executive Director of Basin Strategy and Knowledge at the MDBA, Vicki Woodburn said that while the main parts of the Basin Plan are now in place and are improving sustainable water management, there are important areas requiring action.

“It won’t come as a surprise to many in the Basin that ‘supply and constraint projects’ are at risk, and there’s a need for better information to support people participating in the water market,” Vicki Woodburn said.

“Licensing and measuring of floodplain harvesting is still to be complete, and metering, monitoring and accounting improvements are required across the Basin.

“In addition, the climate has changed faster than anticipated – the five hottest years on record in the Basin have occurred in the last seven years.

“The new reality of a changing climate brings profound new challenges, and a need to adapt what we’re doing to ensure we can maintain the health of the Basin for the benefit of Basin communities,” Ms Woodburn said.

The evaluation identifies six priority areas for focus and has made 12 recommendations for action, to keep the Basin healthy and resilient.

“These recommendations must be actioned collaboratively between all Basin stakeholders to be successful,” Ms Woodburn said.

The 6 priority areas are:

  1. Continued implementation of the Basin Plan
  2. Adapting to climate challenges and increasing resilience
  3. Strengthening focus and support to enable social and economic outcomes
  4. Establishing a clear and committed pathway for First Nations social and economic outcomes
  5. Integrating water management with other activities to achieve environmental restoration
  6. Advancing science and monitoring

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