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Published: 03 July 2019   •   Communiques
  1. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) held its July meeting in Shepparton, Victoria, on 2-3 July. The ongoing drought framed much of the Authority's discussions.
  2. The Authority discussed the current water resource position on the Murray River where for the second year in a row inflows have been in the lowest 10 per cent on record. The MDBA active storage volume in the River Murray was 3,006 GL on 31 May which is substantially lower than the same time last year (4,609 GL in 2018) and the long term average of 5,089 GL. The Authority noted the impact lower water storages were having on state government allocations along the Murray as well as across the Basin. The Authority reiterated the importance of the MDBA continuing to work with the states to ensure information was available to people about how water is shared and the water resource outlook so people have the best information available to make business decisions. The Authority was updated about the transfer of water from Dartmouth Dam to Hume Dam that commenced in June and is expected to continue at modest rates in the following months if forecast dry conditions prevail.
  3. The Chair of the Independent Social and Economic Assessment Panel Robbie Sefton updated the Authority on the Panel's first two meetings. The panel is developing plans for community consultation over its draft terms of reference in July. Ms Sefton acknowledged the extensive work already undertaken to understand social and economic conditions in the Basin but underlined the need for the independent assessment. The panel is separating out a range of complex and interconnected factors affecting rural and regional communities across the Basin including drought, population changes, technological advances and market forces. The panel intends to assess how these issues intersect with the Basin Plan rather than looking at the Basin Plan itself. The Authority wished the panel well and invited Ms Sefton to share the panel's insights in the coming months.
  4. Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority Chair, Adrian Weston, and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Norman, briefed the Authority about the challenges faced by the region's peak natural resource management body. The CMA's work to ensure land and water resources are protected and enhanced while improving the region's social wellbeing is centred on strong partnerships and cooperation with water managers and environmental water holders. The Authority heard that drought, river capacity issues and changes in agricultural water use in the region were key issues.
  5. The MDBA Chair Joanna Hewitt signed a new five year MoU with the Murray–Darling Association's national president David Thurley during the Shepparton visit. The MoU recognises the MDBA's and MDA's common interest in the sustainable management of the Murray–Darling Basin and the diligent implementation of the Basin Plan taking local communities into account.
  6. MDBA Chief Executive Phillip Glyde updated the Authority on MDBA activities. He noted new Sustainable Diversion Limits came into effect on July 1 for all catchments. The Authority discussed the latest Basin Report Card, published on 1 July, and noted the sustained effort by Basin governments to meet Basin Plan deadlines. Good progress is being made in the areas of water recovery, managing compliance, water use rules and the delivery of water for the environment. However, concerted action was needed in the second half of 2019 to finalise Water Resource Plans for each area, and to implement initiatives to protect low flows and water for the environment.
  7. The Authority provided input on the MDBA Compliance update and priorities for the coming year, which were published on 26 June. The Authority noted the six priority areas for the coming year were unmeasured water extraction, robust water metering, trade restrictions, the protection of water for the environment, state government compliance and enforcement arrangements, and state government accounting for the use of water in accordance with the new sustainable diversion limits and the adjustment of those limits. The acting head of the Office of Compliance also briefed the Authority on the reaction to the Trade Price Audit Report, released on May 31.
  8. The Authority reiterated the importance of prerequisite policy measures (PPMs). At its meeting on 28 June, the Authority considered the submitted PPMs for each jurisdiction and the River Murray, and determined that PPMs across all jurisdictions were 'in effect'. The Authority regards full implementation of these commitments as essential to the practical ongoing implementation and improvement of arrangements for the management of environmental water. The Authority noted that each jurisdiction needs to commit to further work to refine and improve PPM implementation over time. The Authority also welcomed the MDBA's position statement. PPMs are arrangements to piggyback environmental water on unregulated flows and to account for environmental return flows. The Authority will report on the effectiveness of ongoing PPM implementation in 2024 at the same time as undertaking the reconciliation of the Sustainable Diversion Adjustment Mechanism that is dependent on the full realisation of the benefits of PPM implementation.
  9. The Authority was briefed on progress with the new Water Resource Plans (WRPs) and the timeframes for WRP submission for assessment by the MDBA, and for final accreditation by the Minister for Water Resources. The Authority noted applications by New South Wales for an extension until 31 December 2019 for all 20 WRPs in the state, and by South Australia for extensions until 31 December for two WRPs (River Murray and Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges). The handling of floodplain harvesting estimates in New South Wales will be an important issue for consideration in draft WRPs.
  10. The Authority was updated on the progress to review the Basin-Wide Environmental Watering Strategy, which sets out advice to environmental water holders, governments and water managers about how to plan and manage environmental watering at a Basin scale for the long term. The draft strategy is scheduled for public consultation in August and finalisation before the end of the year.
  11. The Chair of the Basin Community Committee (BCC), Rory Treweeke, reported on the latest Committee activities. Mr Treweeke said members agreed on the need for better state cooperation on issues and noted the need for faster action on the 36 SDL Adjustment Mechanism projects including constraints projects. At its June meeting, the BCC agreed on the need for all Basin governments to work together to restore trust in the Basin Plan. It called for consistency across state borders on water sharing, especially river channel capacity share between NSW and Victoria. The Authority thanked the BCC for its important contribution and insights.
  12. A briefing by the Chair of the MDBA's independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACSEES), Professor Rob Vertessy, was welcomed by Authority members. Professor Vertessy outlined ACSEES's plan to hold an expert-led climate change workshop on 31 July 2019 to continue the task of better understanding the impacts that a changing climate is having on the Murray–Darling Basin. He also noted the committee has been considering nominations for the replacement for Professor David James who resigned in May. The Authority recognised the valuable guidance that Professor James had provided to the MDBA over several years.  
  13. The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 13 – 14 August in Dubbo.

ENDS

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