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Published: 06 June 2019   •   Communiques

At its meeting on 4-5 June 2019 in Canberra, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority welcomed the reappointment of the Hon. David Littleproud as the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management following the May 2019 Federal Election. Members received an update on the first briefing with the returned minister, and look forward to continued implementation of the Basin Plan under Minister Littleproud.

Authority members focused on reviewing water resource plans that are currently undergoing assessment. The need for all state governments to sustain their efforts to complete the delivery of water resources plans was highlighted by members. The Authority considered in detail the progress of draft plans submitted most recently for the MDBA's assessment. This included the Wimmera–Mallee surface and groundwater, the Condamine–Balonne, and the Queensland Border Rivers–Moonie water resource area plans. Members also noted the need for regular reporting on progress through the WRP quarterly reports, with the June issue due for publication this month.

The Executive Director of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, briefed the Authority on the water resource outlook in the Murray system, which continues to be substantially lower than this time last year and lower than the average. The June to August Climate Outlook issued by Bureau of Meteorology on 16 May 2019 indicates a drier than average three months is likely for the Basin, which will extend the pressure on water users, managers and communities alike. Members also noted the MDBA's management of a record volume of inter–valley trade from the Goulburn System in 2018–19, driven by growth in trading and increased demand for water in the Sunraysia area.

The Authority discussed the work currently underway by the MDBA to consider capacity and delivery shortfalls, which occur when demand exceeds the physical capacity of the river to carry the water, or when demands for water unexpectedly spike and there's not enough time to release additional water from dams to meet the demand. The MDBA is presenting the first phase of this project to the June Ministerial Council meeting, as requested by the Council in December 2018.

This year is significant in the implementation of the Basin Plan—1 July 2019 marks the beginning of sustainable diversion limits (SDLs). These limits pave the way for the regulation and adaptive management of water resources in the Basin. The Authority agreed that in the coming months the latest SDL accounts will be published in the 2017–18 transition-period water take report. For the first time, the Basin Plan's SDL accounting has been applied retrospectively to SDL accounts back to the 2012–13 water year, which provides an overview of how accounting under the Basin Plan will operate when it comes into force on 1 July 2019. The Authority emphasised the importance of communicating this work, along with the basics on SDL accounting, to stakeholders.

Members also noted that the MDBA recently commissioned an independent review into water accounting, which confirmed the structure of the accounts being trialled were sound and reflected the purpose of SDL accounting, while noting further opportunities for improvement. The report from the independent review will be finalised in June 2019 and published by the MDBA.

The MDBA Office of Compliance provided an update on the full suite of activities underway. Among these was work to audit state metering arrangements for the Lower Murrumbidgee and the Central Condamine Alluvium, the publication of pattern-approved water meters recommended for use, and the findings of an audit into state government reporting of prices for water traded on the market. Mr Allan Holmes, Chair of the Independent Assurance Committee, also led a discussion on the MDBA's evolving regulatory role and institutional arrangements in light of the recent Productivity Commission's Five Yearly Assessment of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

The Authority was updated on progress by the MDBA to assess prerequisite policy measures, which the state governments must implement by 30 June 2019. These measures include the ability to piggyback water for the environment on unregulated flows, and ensure environmental return flows are accounted for and protected. The Authority confirmed that their determination on whether these measures are in effect will take place out of session. Members recognised the importance of a forward work program to ensure an adaptive management approach is taken by governments to continue to improve on these arrangements.

Authority members released their position statement on floodplain harvesting and confirmed their expectations that floodplain harvesting will be within the limits in the Basin Plan. Authority members agreed that the management and measurement of water use from the floodplains would remain an important part of the states' compliance reporting responsibilities. Monitoring and regulation is critical to ensure water use remains sustainable.

The chair of the Basin Community Committee (BCC), Rory Treweeke, reported on Committee activities. Mr Treweeke said members agreed there is a need for all Basin governments to work together to restore trust in the Basin Plan. Mr Treweeke also said there is an increasing sense of urgency among all communities for faster action on all 36 SDL Adjustment Mechanism projects, including the constraints projects. The Authority thanked the BCC for its valuable insights into Basin community perspectives and priorities.

Authority members noted the ‘Basin and Eggs' MDBA breakfast event that occurred in Griffith on 31 May 2019, where stakeholders heard from CEO of Murrumbidgee Irrigation, Brett Jones, with CEO of chicken company Proten, Bill Williams, and business leader and farmer, Robbie Sefton. The next event will be held in Melbourne on Friday 7 June 2019 and will be focused on the science explaining the Menindee fish death events which occurred earlier this year.

A briefing by the chair of the MDBA's independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences, Professor Rob Vertessy, was welcomed by Authority members. Professor Vertessy acknowledged the contribution of outgoing member Professor David James, whose position will be filled in coming weeks.

The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 2-3 July in Shepparton.

ENDS

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