Monitoring and evaluating the Basin Plan

Five years in to the Basin Plan, it's time to check how things are going....

The Basin Plan was designed to be adaptive – it has a monitoring and evaluation framework built into it. Five years after the Basin Plan, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is conducting a health check (interim evaluation).

The evaluation will examine the economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes from the Basin Plan against what was expected to be seen 5 years in. To do this work properly, it will be critical to separate out the consequences and effects of the Basin Plan from other drivers of change.

In the lead up to the full evaluation publication, we are releasing some early findings. The first of these snapshots is what we have found for native fish in the Basin.

What we are considering?

Is the Basin Plan implementation on track?

The evaluation will cover all elements of Basin Plan implementation.

This includes:

  • water recovery progress
  • environmental water management and delivery
  • the implementation of water trading rules and the water quality and salinity management plan
  • progress towards new water planning arrangements
  • social, cultural and economic outcomes, both positive and negative
  • outcomes from the Commonwealth's investments in on and off-farm infrastructure improvements.

What effect is the Basin Plan having?

For communities and economies, the evaluation is on three scales:

  • Basin wide – outcomes for population, production and employment
  • Region/catchment – amount of water recovered and how; and the outcomes for production, employment and community wellbeing
  • Community – a closer look at the effects of water recovery in up to 50 irrigation-dependent communities (in the context of other data on social and economic conditions).

For Basin environments, the evaluation will report on the effects and effectiveness of environmental water delivery:

  • whether water is being planned, prioritised and delivered in the best way
  • how much, where, why and when it was delivered
  • whether flows in rivers and to important floodplain wetlands have changed
  • what the response of fish, waterbirds and floodplain plants has been so far.

Timeline for environmental health

As an example of why it takes so long to see long-term change in the recovery of water-dependent ecosystems is the lifecycle of river red gums - an iconic and important species  - is described below.

River red gum forests on low floodplains need to be inundated every 1–3 years. On higher floodplains, other woodland communities may cope with every 4–7 years.

When conditions are right, trees drop seeds. Flood timing affects germination success – this needs to be in spring-early summer, as waters recede. If there is then a hot, dry period, most seedlings fail.

It then takes around 7–10 years for these trees to flower and produce viable seed. In this time, more water is occasionally needed to sustain health. Success is also affected by grazing and fire (red gums are very fire sensitive).

Who is involved

Information for the evaluation is coming from a variety of sources. This includes many Commonwealth, state and MDBA datasets as well as input from community members, local experts, peak stakeholder groups, the Basin Community Committee and technical experts such as the Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACSEES).