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Published: 22 November 2018   •   Opinion pieces

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

This visionary policy saw Australia become the first nation in the world to instate such a plan across a major river basin.

To date, more than four times the volume of Sydney Harbour in water has been recovered for the environmental health of the river system, and on average that much will be available for the environment each and every year.

While farmers are struggling with drought, it's important to recognise that prolonged dry conditions pose a threat to the health and future of the river system as well. Environmental water helps to increase the resilience and sustainability of the river network, so that it can remain a healthy, working asset for future generations.

Over the past decade, more than 8000 gigalitres of environmental water has been used to water over 120 sites along approximately 20,000 kilometres of rivers, delivering benefits to local communities along the way.

This water has benefited over 200 native species, supported the return of some of Australia's endangered species to the Basin, and supported many of the largest recorded breeding cycles of native fish and waterbirds in the last 20 years, as well as helping to safeguard the health of internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands.

More than $8 billion in Australian Government investment in irrigation infrastructure and efficiency programs is ensuring that water is used as efficiently as possible both on and off-farm.

The benefits of environmental water and the investment in infrastructure will continue to grow and compound as the implementation of the Plan progresses.

Other nations now look to Australia as having some of the best and most successful sustainable water management policies in the world.

The work isn't over, but as a nation we have every reason be proud of our progress.

We must continue to implement the Plan as it was intended, and remain true to its vision of a healthy river system and vibrant communities and industries across the Basin.

It is not easy to be pioneers in any field, and water reform is no exception. It is not an exact science and there are no definitive answers.

That is why the Basin Plan was designed as an adaptive management framework, with safeguards and opportunities for improvement built into it.  It was structured to be able to respond to new information or emerging issues.

The MDBA is continually improving various aspects of our work, so the Plan is implemented as it was designed and intended to be.  That means some of the settings will continue to change, taking into account new information, better methods or rolling averages.

My current focus, and that of the Authority, is on rising to meet future challenges and ensuring that implementation of the Basin Plan remains true to its intent.  We are planning climate change research, to make sure the mechanisms currently in the Plan will allow us to continue to manage climate change risks into the future.  We are expanding our work on cultural flows, to ensure that the traditional owners of the Basin can fully and meaningfully share the benefits of the Basin Plan. These are the kind of things that will help secure the ongoing success on the Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan is our best pathway to a sustainable future for the Basin system.

It is a momentous reform, and one which Australians should be proud of. We are six years into the journey, and if we stay the course, Australians today and in future generations will continue to share in the benefits of a healthy, working Murray–Darling Basin.

The Hon. Neil Andrew AO, Chair, Murray–Darling Basin Authority

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