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Published: 11 February 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 10-11 February 2021. All members were present and the meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston. The meeting was preceded by a one-day strategic planning workshop.

Members warmly welcomed the Authority's newest member Rene Woods to his first Authority meeting. Mr Woods is already playing an integral role in deepening the understanding of First Nations' issues in the Basin. In the 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation the MDBA recommended that First Nations and Basin governments (including the MDBA) must develop practical pathways for the use of water for Cultural and economic outcomes. The MDBA is already working with First Nations to identify practical options that enhance First Nations' outcomes ahead of the Basin Plan review in 2026 and Mr Woods' understanding and connections across the Basin is helping to expedite this work.

The Authority was briefed on water resource availability and the weather outlook for the Basin by the head of river management, Andrew Reynolds. Some areas of the northern Basin are still experiencing dry conditions while in other areas local rainfall has led to a relatively good season for dryland farmers but only limited river flows. The southern Basin has experienced a wetter than average summer due to La Nina. As of 3 February 2021, northern Basin storages were sitting at 28 percent, while southern storages were at 57 percent which means some irrigators are enjoying 100 percent allocation. Because of the unseasonal summer rain that the southern Basin has received in recent weeks, the risk of a delivery shortfall is now considered low but will remain a serious watchpoint in years to come.

Members discussed the Basin's climate vulnerabilities identified in the CSIRO scenarios released last year and the MDBA's upcoming Climate Resilience Summit in March. Climate change will permanently shift the fundamental characteristics and connectivity of the Basin. Adapting to the changing climate is increasingly a focus of the diverse stakeholders of the Basin with many already beginning this process. Members highlighted the important role the summit will play in bringing together key leaders who are taking action so the knowledge, tools and innovations could be shared across sectors and industries for the benefit of all Basin stakeholders. 

Members provided direction to the MDBA in its assessment of the remaining NSW water resource plans against the requirements of the Basin Plan. Members reviewed draft assessments for the proposed Namoi (surface water) water resource plan and the proposed Namoi Alluvium (groundwater) water resource plan, including advice from First Nations through Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations. The Authority looks forward to seeing positive outcomes from the upcoming meeting between the New South Wales government, NBAN, MLDRN and the MDBA to ensure effective and timely engagement with First Nations on the state's remaining WRPs.

Authority had a fruitful face-to-face discussion with the Basin Community Committee (BCC) which also met in Canberra this week. The BCC is made up of First Nations representatives, farmers, irrigators, local councils and business owners. They provide feedback and advice regularly to the Authority on water management issues. The Authority noted the members' concerns about the low storage levels in the northern Basin and ongoing water security concerns. The BCC chair Phil Duncan stressed the importance of governments working together – in particular collaboration, compromise and connectivity. He noted the constructive relationships the BCC is establishing with state governments, following their meeting last year.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) Jody Swirepik updated members on the watering events currently underway and the positive environmental outcomes being achieved. Water for the environment has been used at Lake Brewster in the Lachlan River to support the full breeding cycle of an Australian pelican colony and a watering event in the Murrumbidgee is supporting the breeding of 15,000 straw-necked ibis and 3,000 glossy ibis nesting pairs. The increased water allocation this year for the CEWH, along with other entitlement holders, has facilitated these outcomes.

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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