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Enhancing water monitoring and information

Water is a precious natural resource in the Murray–Darling Basin, with a wide variety of communities, towns, farmers and industries all depending on it.

The Australian Government has a strong commitment to improving the transparency, consistency, and accessibility of water information to make sure every drop of water counts.

Hydrometric Networks and Remote Sensing Program

In December 2020, the Australian Government announced 4 projects which will improve how the northern Murray–Darling Basin’s water is measured and monitored, and give communities access to more water information.

This $35 million initiative is being delivered in collaboration with the New South Wales and Queensland Governments, as well as the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

The initiative will provide water licence holders, compliance officers and the public with better access to more accurate information and allow for more robust and consistent assessment of water use and compliance.

This will help give communities assurance that all water users are doing the right thing and help governments to make informed decisions. It will also support delivery of the world-leading Murray–Darling Basin Plan which aims to improve the health of the Basin, while continuing to support communities, farming and other industries for the benefit of the Australian community.

The program has clear benefits including improving transparency and accountability around water management, and improving access to:

  • water information for the public – including near real-time information on water flows, extractions and water entitlement and trade information
  • water information for water entitlement holders – including near real-time information on flows, extractions, and information on entitlement rules
  • measurement, metering and monitoring tools for water managers, regulators, and compliance officers – including remote sensing tools, automated water take reporting, and specifications for floodplain harvesting measurement
  • tools for compliance officers, which will better enable compliance with water laws – including near real-time water use information, remote sensing and water balance tools and analytics pinpointing high risk non-compliance areas
  • reduced data costs for water management partners – including agreements for sharing data to be used as a template for future data programs.

The program is being delivered over 3 years from 2020 to 2023 and is part of the Enhanced Water Monitoring and Information Initiative.

The pathway includes scoping, data collection and analytics in the early years, alongside initial releases of new tools. This will be followed by more comprehensive and fully operational tools and models launched throughout 2023.

While there is an initial focus on the northern Murray–Darling Basin, approaches developed in this program will be used in other parts of the Basin.

Agencies involved in managing and delivering projects include the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment and Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water. Australian Government agencies involved include the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia and the MDBA – who administers and manages the Program.

The program is overseen by an independently chaired Steering Committee, supported by a panel of experts and independent assessors.

Projects to improve water monitoring and information

The information about the projects below is current as at April 2022.
 

Building a water information portal and supporting systems

A water information portal is being developed to improve transparency of water management information. Members of the public will be able to gain easy access to data on flows, gauge station information, volumes of water in storages, water quality, rainfall, near-real time water holder account information and water markets activity. It draws information from a range of sources and will report on environmental watering within the Basin.

The Murray–Darling Basin Water Information Portal (MDB-WIP) is hosted and run by the Bureau of Meteorology. The project is led by the Bureau of Meteorology and the MDBA with state government involvement from New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment and Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water. The Basin-wide features of the MDB-WIP are supported by the Australian Government.

What has happened so far:

  • In June 2021, the first version of the portal was launched by the Bureau of Meteorology. It includes information for the public on storages, allocations, and trading for Basin catchments, in addition to a wide range of signposts to other useful water information.
  • A data sharing agreement that underpins the presentation of additional information for the public and building of analytical tools and capabilities to support State and Commonwealth compliance activities was signed in September 2021.

Next steps:

  • Work on development of the second version of the Murray–Darling Basin Water Information Portal is underway. It will be available later in 2022, featuring further upgrades and improved public access to water information. Over the next 18 months three further versions will be developed building on feedback received from users.
Boosting cross border measurement and monitoring

An expanded network of hydrometric and remote sensing technologies will be rolled out to improve the transparency and accountability of water management in the northern Basin.

Hydrometry is the monitoring of the components of the hydrological cycle including rainfall, groundwater characteristics, as well as water quality and flow characteristics of surface waters.

Deploying new technologies will help improve cross border measurement and monitoring of water diversions and in-stream flows.

As well as expanded hydrometric networks, the project will deliver the evaluation of low-cost measurement devices and networks to supplement the expanded network. There will also be updated tools for measuring and monitoring floodplain harvesting.

The project is led by New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment and Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, with participation from the MDBA.

What has happened so far:

  • In October 2021, a gap analysis was completed on the current and future use of remote sensing data and tools for the purpose of measuring and monitoring water in the northern Basin.
  • In December 2021, the Australian Government, jointly with the NSW Government announced the location of 20 new and upgraded hydrometric stations across the Darling, Macquarie, Culgoa, Gwydir, Border Rivers and Namoi catchments in New South Wales, backed by over $1 million investment. Joint media release: New water monitoring stations big win for the Northern Basin.

Next steps:

  • From June 2022, there will be better access to real-time water information via the phased installation and upgrade of these hydrometric stations. There will be 20 in New South Wales and 3 in Queensland by end 2023.
Developing an online water accounting and reporting tool

State-based online water accounting and reporting tools which collect, manage and report data, will be developed and improved to increase the accessibility of water information to water holders and compliance officers via a web-based service.

This will support water licence holders and compliance officers in New South Wales and Queensland. Entitlement holders will be able to access details of their entitlements, river conditions, extractions, trade and water sharing plan rules via secure individual access.

Similarly, state-based compliance officers will be able to access entitlement level data for compliance purposes.

The project is led by New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment and Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, with participation from the MDBA.

What has happened so far:

  • Improved access to entitlement scale water management information for entitlement holders in New South Wales via state online portals.

Next steps:

  • By mid 2022, a first iteration of the online tools will be available in Queensland.
  • Continued rollouts of improvements to the entitlement holder and compliance officer interfaces, including the adoption of spatial and remote-sensing tools in the online systems.
Operationalising remote-sensing and spatial tools

A range of remote-sensing analytic tools will be put into operation to enhance real-time measuring and compliance at a Basin scale.

The project will focus on monitoring a range of water related activities including irrigated cropping and water use, construction, or modification of water storages, monitoring wetting/drying of storages and monitoring and tracking flood and environmental flow releases through major streams and river systems.

These tools will be accessible to compliance officers and entitlement holders through the water accounting and reporting web-interfaces in development.

The innovative products will also provide valuable data inputs for improving model calibration and validation to support water resource management and compliance functions.

The project is led by New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment and Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, with participation from Geoscience Australia, Bureau of Meteorology and the MDBA.

What has happened so far:

  • In October 2021, work was completed on the current and future use of remote sensing data and tools for the purpose of measuring and monitoring water in the northern Basin.

Next steps:

  • Ongoing work to improve the use of remote sensing data, integration and tools in the northern Basin.