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Published: 25 November 2016   •   Opinion pieces

By Phillip Glyde, MDBA Chief Executive

When the Basin Plan was drafted in 2012, the system was under serious strain.

The millennium drought was a wake-up call. We needed a plan to better share the basin's water to safeguard one of Australia's greatest national assets and ensure the Murray–Darling Basin has enough water to sustain itself.

That was achieved in 2012 when the Basin Plan received bipartisan support from all basin states and the Australian Government.

It was recognised that there would be adverse impacts on regional economies and employment. That's why the Australian Government is investing $13 billion to make the plan work. In the long-term it means a more certain future and increased water security for all river users.

Regular reviews were hardwired into the plan to allow it to be refocused when needed.

The Basin Plan sets out that around 10,800 GL will be available for consumption in an average year. This target involves a recovery of 2750 GL water for the environment.

Currently, the northern part of the basin contributes to that recovery with a target of 390 GL by 2019.

The MDBA has been reviewing the settings for the northern basin over the past three to four years, consulting with communities and experts.

Our ground-breaking social and economic research separated the effects of water recovery from things like farm mechanisation at a community by community level. We talked with representatives from communities and from Aboriginal Nations to build our knowledge.

Based on this work, we propose an amendment to reduce the 390 GL target by 70 GL to 320 GL.

We can say with confidence that this decision means that about 200 jobs can be kept in irrigation dependent communities across the northern basin and that environmental outcomes close to those delivered under a 390 GL recovery are still achievable.

We need Basin governments to complement our work by protecting environmental water and using things like fishways. We also recommend maximising water recovery through improved irrigation infrastructure.

As part of finalising the Plan it was also agreed to review the settings in three groundwater areas — two in NSW and one in Victoria.

These reviews have been completed, and we recommend increasing the amount of groundwater available for extraction, on the condition that management controls are introduced. The basin-wide total for groundwater take would increase from 3334 GL, to 3494 GL — an increase of 160 GL.

We also recommend some minor changes to the Basin Plan to ensure its smooth operation, including clarifying water trading rules.

All the proposed amendments help safeguard the future of the whole the Murray-Darling Basin.

Reducing the water recovery target in the north from 390 GL to 320 GL is a good outcome that balances the needs of people in communities, of industry and the environment.

Without an amendment to the Plan the 390 GL recovery target remains in place. It is our hope that these amendments, which are based on new research and what basin communities have told us, are supported so they can progess through parliament and give communities certainty.

I invite those with an interest to make a submission through our public consultation process on the amendments by 5 PM AEST 10 February 2017.

More information on making a submission is available at:


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