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Published: 28 August 2018   •   Media statements

Drought is a testing time for the environment—just as it is for farmers and regional communities.

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan's job is to share water fairly so farmers, communities and the environment can better manage the inevitable challenges Australia's variable climate throws at them.

It means that water for the environment is now held outside of the pool of water available to irrigation farmers through the water market.

Water is an owned commodity—just like land.

There is a widespread assumption that water flowing in the rivers, or stored in the dams, is for the environment. In fact, most of the available water stored in dams right now is owned by irrigators. Environmental water entitlements account for roughly eight per cent of water in New South Wales's Murray–Darling Basin storages and about 13 per cent in Victoria.

And right now there is no shortage of water for sale. The water market gives farmers and governments the same access to water at market prices.

Farmers can and should make decisions about whether to buy or sell water on the temporary market, or whether to hold on to some of their water allocation for the next year.

This is an important risk management tool for many Australian farmers who plan for wet and dry scenarios, just as environmental water holders do.

The Millennium drought was the stimulus for the Basin Plan's development. It prioritises water for critical human needs over other water uses, and there are agreed triggers to share water under very dry scenarios. Through Basin Plan funding, irrigators have improved the water efficiency of their irrigation systems.

Drought is the time to truly test the Basin Plan, and its value is clearer now than ever.

It's not about supporting the environment or farmers, but a case of balancing the long-term needs of both in this uniquely important part of Australia.

That's why there are strict rules protecting Commonwealth water that was purchased for the environment from being used for other purposes. The rules say that while water can be traded in some circumstances it must deliver equivalent environmental outcomes. That's the whole point of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

Underpinning the Plan is the right of all water entitlement holders to use their water allocations as they see fit—whether it's environment managers supporting river ecosystems or irrigators growing our food and fibre.

The alternative is a river system that eventually can't support anything.

It is early in the irrigation season. The hot days of summer that will really test us are still a few months away. No one can afford to cast the Plan aside now.

The MDBA's job is to make sure the Basin's many different values are protected for all Australians. That includes thriving agriculture, a resilient environment and strong communities.

Many in our communities have a difficult path ahead until the drought breaks. My hope is that we can work together as communities and governments to sustain the Murray–Darling Basin for future generations.

Phillip Glyde
Chief Executive Murray–Darling Basin Authority

ENDS

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