The Federal Coalition Government has welcomed the release of the Productivity Commission’s first five yearly assessment report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The assessment finds significant progress has been made in implementing the Basin Plan including the recovery of water entitlements to meet the June 2019 target which is almost complete.
The assessment finds arrangements for environmental water are working well; that there is evidence of improved ecological outcomes, and Basin Governments have made significant progress in implementing the key elements of the Plan.
The assessment also states there are challenges going forward as we continue to deliver the Plan. There is no doubt there is a lot more work to be done by the Commonwealth, the basin states and the MDBA.
We constantly review and improve our performance and as part of that, we have already acted on several issues raised in the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report in August 2018:
- A historic agreement was struck on the socio-economic test, which allows water to be recovered for the environment without harming Basin communities;
- States committed to projects delivering water to the environment by improving efficiency and are getting on with delivering them;
- The first step of a plan to remove or manage constraints on flows (like raising low lying bridges and roads) was agreed upon by the December Ministerial Council; and
- Agreement signed to release $132 million in Federal Government funding for 36 supply projects which deliver outcomes including mimicking natural flows and better use of environmental water.
The Basin Plan has had bipartisan support since it was created by then Minister Tony Burke in 2012. Shared responsibility and management of the river has seen the delivery of the Northern Basin Review, Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism, improved compliance and enforcement across the Basin and the historic decision to ensure an indigenous member is permanently appointed to the Board of the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
The Australian Government will consider a response to this report in consultation with Basin states and Basin communities over coming months.
- Lowering water use to the Sustainable Diversion Limits required by the Basin Plan is almost complete.
- 1995.8GL of target of 2075 GL has been delivered to environmental water holders.
- There is already evidence of improved ecological outcomes across the Basin, with over 750 environmental watering events completed in the past five years.
- The Australian Government has invested an additional $9 million in the MDBA to improve compliance and appointed Mick Keelty as the new Northern Basin Commissioner.
QUOTES FROM REPORT:
“About 20 per cent of the water that was available for consumptive users a decade ago is now dedicated to the environment.” (page 2)
“The arrangements for managing environmental water are working well, with evidence of improved ecological outcomes at the local and system scale.” (page 2)
“The Basin Plan is a step change in the management of the Murray-Darling Basin… It is part of a comprehensive effort by the Australian and State Governments to reset the balance between environmental and consumptive use of water across the Basin and to establish a long-term sustainable water management system.” (page 3)
“Basin Governments have made significant practical progress in implementing key elements of the Plan.” (page 9)
“Almost 20 per cent of the water that was available a decade ago for consumptive uses such as irrigated agriculture is now dedicated to the environment and arrangements for managing this water are in place.” (page 9)
“Basin Governments have put in place the key foundations of the Basin Plan’s new management arrangements.” (page 10)
“For communities that rely of the River Murray, new rules for providing critical human water needs (including drinking water for cities and towns and stock water) have been established, with stakeholders expressing confidence that these rules will ensure these needs can be met in extremely dry times.” (page 10)
“Basin Plan salinity targets are integrated into the Basin salinity management framework and have been consistently met for most areas.” (page 11)
“Basin States have improved their formal processes for engagement with Traditional Owners as part of the WRP development; in particular they are taking a nation-by-nation approach to consultation.” (page 11)
“New requirements to improve market information and market confidence (such as protocols to manage market sensitive information) are in place.” (page 11)
EXAMPLES OF ENVIRONMENTAL FLOW BENEFITS:
- Helped protect threatened fish species in the Border Rivers and the migration of Murray cod and freshwater catfish in the Gwydir and Mehi Rivers
- Helped provide breeding habitat for thousands of waterbirds, with 6,000 nests recorded at the first ever observed pelican breeding at Nimmie-Caira
- Re-connection flows in the lower Namoi downstream of Wee Waa from November 2018 – and the first small flow along the Namoi through to Walgett in nine months which arrived in recent weeks. This flow improved dissolved oxygen and the quality of refuge habitat for the native fish population for about 150 km of river.
- Provided water to the Macquarie Marshes, Gwydir watercourse and Lowbidgee supporting over 50 native waterbirds species, including the endangered Australian painted snipe and Australasian bittern
- CEWH reconnected the Barwon-Darling in mid-2018 using 30GL of environmental water which improved food for fish, allowed them to move to better habitat, resulted in more oxygen in the water and a reduction in algae.
- Watering of the Ramsar sites within the internationally significant Gwydir Wetlands (which provides key habitat for over 47 different waterbird as observed by monitoring by NSW and the Commonwealth).
- Improved the health of black box trees at Hattah Lakes using efficient water delivery
- Helped maintain important native plants in the Mid-Murrumbidgee Wetlands
- In 2017, environmental water from Lake Menindee triggered one of the largest Murray cod spawning events in the lower Darling in the last 20 years.
- Water from Lake Cawndilla (connected to Lake Menindee) helped native fish, such as golden perch move down the Great Darling Anabranch and avoid becoming trapped as the lake dried out.