Murray-Darling Basin Authority Communique 24 October


The Murray-Darling Basin Authority met on 21 October 2022 on Ngunnawal Country (Canberra). All members were present.

Members expressed their deep sympathy for the many communities affected by the severe flooding across large swathes of the Basin. In the southern Basin, people living along Victorian rivers such as the Goulburn, Campaspe and Loddon have been hard hit, as have those along the Murrumbidgee in New South Wales. All these rivers feed into the River Murray, which is already running at high levels. Communities all the way to the Lower Lakes in South Australia can expect flood waters to arrive in the coming weeks and months.

In the central Basin, the Lachlan and Macquarie valleys have faced ongoing flooding this year, and areas of the northern Basin, particularly the Namoi and Gwydir catchments experienced extremely heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding. Renewed flood waters will continue to pass through the Barwon-Darling system to the Menindee Lakes.

Authority members commended the vital on-ground support provided to local communities by the state emergency services and the expertise of the Bureau of Meteorology, which is serving the Australian community with crucial flood warnings, forecasting and river data.

The Authority also thanked the MDBA River Management portfolio for their dedicated work over many months to mitigate flooding as much as possible from the two major storages in the River Murray System: Dartmouth Dam, which in September spilled for the first time in 26 years, and Hume Dam, which is also effectively full. Since mid-May 2022 the MDBA has released close to 3,400GL (the equivalent to over 110% of Hume Dam), while keeping the river at Albury well below moderate flood level.

When viewed together the 30 major dams across the Murray-Darling Basin are currently at 101% capacity and hold an unprecedented volume of water in storage.

The Authority noted progress by the New South Wales Government to deliver its 20 water resource plans (WRPs) and accreditation of the Border Rivers Alluvium WRP, the first for New South Wales. Six more plans have been received for formal assessment and a further 10 plans are in the pre-submission phase.

Members were briefed on the preparations underway for the 2026 Basin Plan Review. Discussion centred on the early scope of the review and the key themes based on four areas previously identified by the Authority to help guide early planning:

  • How can the Basin Plan be improved to address future challenges, including climate change? 
  • How could the Basin Plan framework be simplified?
  • How do we get the best outcomes for all social, cultural, environmental and economic values?
  • How can the Basin Plan be improved to recognise First Nation’s values in water management and enhance their involvement?

The Authority considered progress in preparing for the SDLAM Annual Assurance Report. The MDBA will continue to conduct transparent and independent assurance on these projects.

At the Authority’s invitation, the South Australian River Murray Commissioner, Mr Richard Beasley SC, attended the meeting. He provided an update on his appointment to advocate for the health of the River Murray, Lower Lakes and Coorong. The Authority looks forward to a constructive relationship with Commissioner Beasley SC.

The Authority received an update on an analysis of science needs, particularly in relation to the scheduled Basin Plan Review. The analysis is intended to help identify knowledge gaps that may remain following completion of existing programs such as the Murray-Darling Water and Environment Research Program, Basin Condition Monitoring Program, Integrated River Model Uplift and other existing initiatives. The science needs analysis will help coordinate work with the states and other research organisations.

Members welcomed an update from the outgoing chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACSEES) Rob Vertessy, who provided a valuable overview of ACSEES September 2022 meeting. They noted ACSEES’ advice in relation to the MDB Outlook, and work the MDBA is undertaking as it prepares for the Basin Plan Review. ACSEES were pleased to see continuing emphasis given to climate change in the MDBA’s considerations.

The Authority acknowledged with thanks and appreciation Professor Vertessy’s four years of service as the ACSEES Chair. Under his guidance ACSEES has provided leadership and valuable advice on matters such as the Commonwealth’s response to the 2018-19 fish kills, development and design of the Murray-Darling Water and Environment Research Program, the 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation and the MDBA’s approach to climate change. The process to select the next ACSEES chair has commenced.

Lyn O’Connell, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water provided members with an update on the work underway to deliver the Australian Government’s water commitments and the actions agreed at the recent Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting on 12 October 2022.

The next Authority meeting will be held on 21 November 2022.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Dr Jane Doolan

Ms Roseanne Healy

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Rene Woods

Mr Andrew McConville (Chief Executive)

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