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Published: 29 June 2020   •   Communiques

As the Murray–Darling Basin Authority met for the last time this financial year, we took stock of the extraordinary battering communities in the Basin have endured over the past twelve months, with prolonged drought, bushfires over summer and now a major pandemic. Like farmers, communities and First Nations people, we are hopeful the Bureau's outlook for a wetter winter and spring is realised and conditions will improve.

The good news is that catchments in the southern Basin are already primed, so the prospects of greater inflows to the dams and tributaries are strong. The recent rain has improved flow into Hume Dam and flows from Victorian tributaries have helped top-up Lake Victoria – the last storage in the river system. Lake Victoria is at 86% capacity, which means it's unlikely our river operators will need to send water from Hume Dam to fill this storage ahead of summer.

For the time being, South Australia is not on full entitlement, but if conditions continue to improve they may reach full entitlement later in the year. Similarly, New South Wales remains in special accounting but is slowly building its water resources.

The New South Wales Government has started delivering the final nine of the Basin's 33 water resource plans for the MDBA's assessment. They are all due to us by 30 June 2020. Once accredited by the Commonwealth water minister, these plans will ensure water is shared between communities, industries and the environment in line with the Basin Plan. It also means that for the first time, floodplain harvesting in New South Wales will be accounted for alongside other water uses.

The MDBA assessment teams will spend the coming months scrutinising the New South Wales plans against the 55 requirements set out in Chapter 10 of the Basin Plan. For us to recommend a water resource plan to the Minister for accreditation, we must be satisfied it meets all these requirements. This includes ensuring each plan does not reduce the protection of planned environmental water compared to before the Basin Plan.

We received a timely briefing on progress to develop the framework for reconciliation and assurance of the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism (SDLAM), which is required as part of the Water Act. Andrew Reynolds, Executive Director of River Management, told the Authority that a decision regarding the need for a reconciliation must be made by the MDBA at the end December 2023. The reconciliation would identify what additional water may need to be recovered for the environment should the SDLAM projects fail to deliver the agreed target. Large scale and sudden water buy-backs can have a much bigger impact on local and regional economies than water efficiency programs and we therefore understand the preference of all Basin governments to achieve the Basin Plan's sustainable diversion limits without resorting to direct purchases. We encourage the state and federal governments to continue their efforts to complete these projects on time.

A review conducted by Chris Guest into the memorandum of understanding between the MDBA and the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) noted the productive cooperation between our two agencies since NRAR's inception two years ago. The review also highlighted the commitment to collaboration between the different levels of government, as witnessed by recent water enforcement and compliance activities in New South Wales. We look forward to this partnership evolving further, especially in the refinement of roles and responsibilities as the state water resource plans come into effect.

The Authority welcomed three new members to the MDBA executive team—Daniel Blacker, Audrey van Beusichem and Tim Goodes—who bring with them experience from New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian state water agencies. We can now share their valuable perspective at the Commonwealth level and look forward to their advice and contribution to the MDBA's critical work ahead.

Looking to the challenges that lie ahead, we know the importance of working with all partners to complete the roll-out of the Basin Plan and to run the rivers in accordance with agreements among the Basin jurisdictions. We aim to work as collaboratively as possible while focusing on our role as the only institution with a Basin-wide mandate to oversee commitments to this essential reform established in the national interest.

Professor Stuart Bunn (Acting Chair)

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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