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Published: 08 June 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 7 and 8 June 2021 on Wiradjuri Country in Griffith, New South Wales. All members were present and the meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The Authority members were pleased to be meeting once again in person, and in one of the Basin's major regional centres. A highlight was meeting with Mayor John Dal Broi who provided a briefing on the positive outlook for Griffith and the region.

They were pleased to have met with the board of Murrumbidgee Irrigation and were looking forward to site visits to local farms later in the week to better understand the challenges of agriculture and water management in the region. We thank the local community and the Griffith City Council for their warm welcome.

The meeting complemented the second formal gathering of key community and governance bodies in the Basin – the Authority, the Basin Officials Committee (BOC) and the Basin Community Committee (BCC). The BOC is made up of senior officials from each jurisdiction, who together advise state and federal water ministers on outcomes and objectives of major water policy in the Basin. The BCC represents the variety of different Basin communities from southern Queensland down to the Murray Mouth. This engagement between the three bodies is helping to strengthen existing relationships and improve transparency.

We were also pleased to combine this meeting with the MDBA's first annual water conference, River Reflections (9–10 June). The River Reflections conference is providing the space and time for productive connections and conversations between the diverse voices of the Basin and to highlight perspectives from the host region, including First Nations, industry, agriculture, natural resource management and tourism. Attendance in person is fully subscribed, noting numbers were capped in accordance with COVID limits. Day one of the conference is being live-streamed for those unable to attend in person.

It is fitting that our inaugural conference is taking place in Griffith where the MDBA is ramping up its regional presence. The MDBA opened its office here in April 2020 and currently has a team of 14 people, with another two expected to join shortly. The MDBA now has one third of its workforce based in regional offices across the Basin.

Members noted the importance of maintaining a collaborative relationship with the Interim Inspector-General (IIG) of Water Compliance, while respecting the independent roles and responsibilities, which will ensure a smooth transition of the compliance function to the IIG later this year.

The Authority endorsed the MDBA's compliance priorities for 2021-2022 to build community trust and confidence, along with a work program to support their delivery while compliance remains the responsibility of the Authority. The priorities relate to water metering and floodplain harvesting measurement, a consistent approach to water compliance between the states and the management of increasing groundwater use.

The Authority were pleased that flows have continued into the Menindee Lakes system, where the volume held now exceeds 1,000 gigalitres. Late last week WaterNSW closed the gates into Lake Menindee to ensure the top two lakes are full as inflows taper off. The water has revitalised economic activity in the community, with wildlife and tourists flocking to the region. It is great to see connectivity of the river system, from the Barwon River tributaries, into the Barwon-Darling and right through to the Murray River.

Water releases from the Menindee Lakes into the Lower Darling – ordered by the MDBA on behalf of Basin states – are beginning to ease this week. More significant releases are not expected until spring or summer, but this will be driven by weather conditions over winter. The Authority is keenly aware of community concerns around how the lakes are managed and while adhering to the rules of the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, will also consider community views, river conditions, water security, delivery efficiency and environmental needs.

Authority members noted the publication of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) Reconciliation Framework. The reconciliation framework sets out how the MDBA will conduct assurance on SDLAM projects leading to a decision by the Authority on whether to undertake a formal reconciliation prior to 30 June 2024.

The assessment of the remaining water resource plans remains a priority for the Authority. At this meeting the Authority considered the draft plan for Murray Alluvium. The WRP quarterly report card was also considered in preparation for its release in the coming weeks.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)
Professor Stuart Bunn
Ms Joanna Hewitt AO
Ms Susan Madden
Mr Rene Woods
Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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