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Published: 10 April 2019   •   Media release

The independent panel that investigated the causes of the 2018-19 fish deaths in the lower Darling River has released its final report, finding that implementation of the Basin Plan should be accelerated in order to reduce the risk of similar events in the future.

Murray–Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde said the panel, chaired by Professor Rob Vertessy, highlighted the need for greater investment in water research and for action to improve the health of the rivers by safeguarding low flows and environmental flows in the Basin.

"I welcome the recommendations of the panel's comprehensive report, which finds the Basin Plan is working but that more should be done to accelerate its full implementation," Mr Glyde said.

"MDBA research and consultation back in 2016 highlighted the critical need to protect flows in the north of the Basin and has led to a significant work program. I welcome the panel's call to accelerate that work.  

"The panel notes the good progress in improving water security for all water users, including the environment. However, Professor Vertessy also highlights the need to finalise well consulted and thorough water resource plans so that the rules governing water sharing between users at the catchment level are contemporary and fit for purpose.

"The panel's report focuses on the need to improve river connectivity in the northern catchments and to make sure mechanisms are included in water resource plans to protect low flows, and the first flows after a period of no flow in the river.

"The MDBA's role is to assess draft water resource plans submitted by the state governments to ensure they meet Basin Plan requirements, before any plans are recommended to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources for accreditation. 

"We are currently working with New South Wales and Queensland to make sure the plans they prepare have an adequate focus on whole-of-system connectivity, protection of low flows and have had sufficient community involvement.

"Professor Vertessy's panel also calls for greater investment in measuring and reporting on system health and on ensuring the research needed to assess and improve Basin Plan implementation is given due priority.

"I recognise how important it is for the Australian community to have confidence that the right things are being looked at when it comes to assessing the outcomes the Basin Plan is achieving.

"Many of the report's recommendations concern preventative measures and recovery strategies that will need to be considered by Basin governments.

"Until it rains, the risk of further fish deaths remains. However, the MDBA is already doing what we can to minimise the risk and will consider the report in detail to inform the development of the Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy and to determine how we can make enduring changes that will support healthy native fish populations into the future."

The report is available on the MDBA website.

ENDS

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