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Published: 24 April 2018   •   Media statements

In just a couple weeks the Australian Parliament will debate a critical amendment to the Basin Plan to change the water recovery settings in the southern Basin.

At the heart of these amendments is a package of projects aimed at improving how water recovered for the environment is used, so we are getting the best possible environmental outcomes from it.

There is a damaging misconception in some quarters that the amendments will diminish the environmental benefits of the Plan.

This could not be further from the truth. In fact, the projects tied to the amendment will improve our ability to achieve the Basin Plan's intended environmental outcomes.

This is because water alone is not enough to achieve environmental change of the magnitude needed to secure the future health of the Basin system.

We are talking about a river system with infrastructure and management practices that have been developed over the course of 100 years, with the aim of delivering water for consumptive use.

To achieve the Basin Plan's goals, we now need this system to be able to deliver for the environment—as well as for communities and industries.

That is why we need projects to reform water management and build new infrastructure to allow us to use the water we have recovered for the environment when, where and how it's needed.

These projects will see us better able to repair wetlands and billabongs, to get water to the floodplains where it's needed more often. They will improve rules governing river operations to allow water through the river system at times when the environment needs it.

Also tied to these amendments is the recovery, through efficiency improvements with positive or neutral socio-economic impacts, of an additional 450 gigalitres (GL) of water for the environment.

The opportunity to make these amendments was always part of the Basin Plan—and for good reason. They are an important part of in-full delivery of the Plan, and reflect the Plan's focus on adaptive management.

Analysis by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), using a framework developed with the CSIRO, found that these projects will mean 605 GL less water is needed to deliver the environmental benefits of 2750 GL of recovered water.

But there is a safety net built into the Plan—the MDBA will monitor the progress of the projects as they are implemented through to 2024, and if environmental outcomes are not being achieved, there will be a reconciliation process and limits on water take will be adjusted accordingly.

We've already recovered over 2100 GL across the Basin.

Environmental water has been used in over 750 planned watering events in the past four years, with environmental water holders working together to get water to priority areas at the right time.

There is clear evidence of positive local-scale environmental outcomes, with positive ecological responses including fish spawning and movement, enhanced bird breeding events and improvements in the health of some areas of native vegetation including river red gum forests.

If we continue with the Basin Plan, these benefits will continue to grow.

If we do not stay the course, we not only risk the hard-won progress we have made to date, but also the future of our nation's most iconic river system, consigning it once again to uncertainty and instability.

I urge all parties to remain unified behind the common goals of the Basin Plan—a healthy future for the river system and the communities and industries that depend upon it.

Phillip Glyde,
Chief Executive Murray–Darling Basin Authority


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