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Published: 07 March 2018   •   Media release

Reports released by the MDBA today show that regular small in-channel flows are critically important to the health of the Basin—but that, since 2000, there have been much longer periods of no to very low flows.

MDBA's head of Environmental Management, Carl Binning, said the reports were an important part of the work underway to implement a 'toolkit' of measures agreed by Queensland, New South Wales and the Commonwealth to protect environmental water and ecologically important small flows in the Northern Basin.

"The MDBA is today releasing two reports—a detailed analysis of ecological needs and an examination of hydrological history in the Barwon–Darling," Mr Binning said.

"We examined publicly availably gauge data for individual small-flow events from 1990 to 2017, and also analysed ecological needs for small in-channel flows. We found that regular small inchannel flows are of critical importance during dry times for both the environment and downstream communities.

"These flows are needed to maintain populations of native fish and other aquatic creatures and support their breeding activity, to maintain water quality and long-term connectivity through the Barwon–Darling river system and its tributaries.

"They also play a role in helping to manage water quality and meet requirements for supply of water for critical human needs.

"Therefore, it is important for the health of the river system and Basin communities to minimise the duration of very low and no-flow periods—however, we also found that since 2000 there have been much longer periods of no to very low flows.

"While there are natural drivers for this change, our analysis suggests water extraction is a significant factor.

"This is precisely the kind of impact which the Basin Plan exists to manage and regulate—and is yet another reason why implementation of the Plan is so important for the future of the Basin and its communities and industries.

"Maintaining flows is particularly challenging in river reaches with unregulated flows such as the Barwon–Darling—that is, where flows are predominately dependent on rainfall and it is not possible to release water from dams to supplement flows.

"In these unregulated systems, specially tailored rules are required in order to be able meet the ecological needs of the river system while balancing the needs of other water users.

"That is why we made the Northern Basin Amendment contingent on a 'toolkit' of measures to protect environmental water and ecologically significant small flows in the Northern Basin—and reports into compliance by the MDBA and Ken Matthews also reinforced the need for such measures in its recommendations.

"The Toolkit Measures resulted from the extensive research and consultation of the Northern Basin Review—and the aim of our work on the reports released today was to provide a strong evidence base to inform the development of these measures.

"Our findings further underline the importance of the work that is already underway to implement the Toolkit Measures to protect these ecologically important flows, and will provide a valuable evidence base for this work.

"Putting in place measures to protect environmental flows is complex because of the need to also ensure fair and equitable access to water resources for all other users. It is important to thoroughly analyse and understand the implications of any proposed policy change—and this is the work being undertaken in cooperation with the NSW government.

"The MDBA is pleased that NSW has established a Taskforce which will report within 90 days on recommended immediate and long-term policy solutions for protecting environmental and small flows—and the MDBA's reports will inform the work of this Taskforce.

"We are confident that the Toolkit Measures, once implemented, will result in real on-ground benefits for the environment and communities of the northern Basin."

The technical reports Observed flows in the Barwon–Darling 1990–2017: A hydrologic investigation and Ecological needs of low flows in the Barwon–Darling are available on the MDBA's website.


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