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Published: 10 May 2019   •   Communiques

At its meeting on 7-8 May 2019 in Canberra, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority noted the meeting was held during federal caretaker period. The Authority was able to progress a number of key items including water resource plans, river management and climate change.

The head of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, provided the Authority with a summary of the sobering water resource outlook for May to July in the Basin. Since July 2018, inflows to the River Murray System have remained in the driest seven percent of records, and more than half the active storage volume at 31 March is currently held in Dartmouth Dam. Authority members noted the pressure experienced by Basin communities and industries in anticipation of continuing dry conditions for the remainder of 2018-19. The Authority noted the request of Ministerial Council to consider further information about capacity and delivery risks in the River Murray, and received an update on the development of this work.

Mr Reynolds reported that more than 600 gigalitres of water for the environment under license from multiple water holders was delivered to the South Australian border in the year to 23 April, with efforts focused on supporting connectivity, water quality and ecological outcomes for the River Murray channel, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

The Authority was briefed on the priorities for water for the environment ahead for 2019/20, and noted the critically important role of this water during drought. This water can be used to preserve important habitats and refuges for the animals, plants and birds of the Basin. The priorities will be publicly released by the MDBA in the coming months.

A briefing on the outcomes of the Independent Assessment of the 2018-19 fish deaths in the Lower Darling was provided by Professor Rob Vertessy, who confirmed that the science panel intends to return to Menindee in the coming weeks to discuss the findings and recommendations with the community. Members were also briefed on progress to scope the Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy, with a view to providing a business case to the Basin Officials Committee at their June 2019 meeting.

Members also welcomed a briefing from Professor Vertessy as chair of the MDBA's independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences. Of note was the workshop held in April to progress the MDBA's climate change work program for the Basin. The workshop brought together a strong field of experts, including climate scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University. The Committee also considered the evaluation framework for the 2020 Evaluation of the Basin Plan, noting the 2020 evaluation will be critical to the ongoing implementation of the Basin Plan.

An update on the MDBA's assessment of state government prerequisite policy measures occurred. These legislative and operational rule changes are essential improvements to the use and accounting of water for the environment in the southern-connected Murray–Darling Basin. Authority members noted that an ongoing adaptive management approach is needed to ensure these measures are fully secure, transparent and enduring. These measures were included in the planning for the SDL Adjustment Mechanism and must be in place by 30 June 2019. The MDBA will report on the effectiveness and implementation of the measures in its annual SDL Adjustment Mechanism assessment.

Authority members supported the MDBA's continuing efforts to build compliance and enforcement in the Basin, including working with jurisdictions to improve metering and reporting. In a related matter, an update was provided by the MDBA GIS and Spatial Services team on the recent use of open and accessible satellite imagery and remote sensing to support the MDBA's compliance, monitoring and engagement responsibilities. As this form of data capture becomes more available, the MDBA anticipates use and access to this across the Basin will increase.

The MDBA's major task of assessing water resource plans (WRPs) occupied much of the Authority's attention. The Authority was briefed on six WRPs currently under assessment, including the Condamine–Balonne, Queensland Border Rivers–Moonie, Wimmera–Mallee surface and groundwater, Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges and the South Australian River Murray.

Members noted that the NSW Government this week released the Independent Peer Review into floodplain harvesting, and NSW will now be conducting public consultation on the review, including a series of workshops in July.

The chair of the Basin Community Committee (BCC), Rory Treweeke, reported on the BCC members' proactive stance to strengthen community understanding about the Basin Plan, and to provide valuable community perspectives to the Authority. Mr Treweek was pleased to share an overview of his meeting with the recently appointed NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing, The Hon. Melinda Pavey, during her visit to Walgett, to explore northern NSW water management issues.

Authority members endorsed a new five-year memorandum of understanding between the MDBA and the Murray–Darling Association. It was noted the MoU would be an important avenue to enhance relationships at the community level in the Basin, to complement the MDBA's current engagement activities and further improve water literacy across local government. The MoU will be published on signing in June.

Acting Authority chair Joanna Hewitt took the opportunity to thank out-going Authority member George Warne for his judgement, optimism and contribution over the four years of his tenure, in particular during the MDBA's pursuit of improved regulatory and compliance arrangements. Mr Warne's insight and guidance has been integral in guiding the MDBA through an ambitious timeline for delivery. The Authority looks forward to a new member being appointed to the Authority.

The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 4 June 2019.  

ENDS

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