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Published: 13 October 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 13 October 2021 by video teleconference. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston with all members present. Andrew Reynolds attended as acting Chief Executive while Phillip Glyde is on extended leave.

Acting Executive Director of River Management Andrew Kremor provided an overview of the Basin's improved water outlook which has elevated community confidence and prompted a positive outlook for the agriculture sector. At the end of September, water held in major Basin storages was 88 percent of capacity across the northern and southern Basin. Active storage in the Murray system was 92 percent, compared with 55 percent at the same time last year, with September inflows being the highest monthly volume since October 2016.

At Hume Dam, where the storage is at 97 percent, flood operations continue, with releases being carefully managed to ensure airspace is maintained to capture the peak of major inflows that might eventuate this month. Creating airspace is a gradual and managed process, as the dam still needs to be filled ahead of irrigation demand emerging. River operators are working around the clock to assess new inflow and weather information. The MDBA's order of priority is always to keep the dam safe, capture and store water, and where we can, mitigate floods.

Given the chance of flooding this season, the MDBA has ramped up efforts to ensure communities have the information they need. This includes a weekly briefing initiated in mid-August in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Victorian and NSW State Emergency Services to ensure key stakeholders and their local networks are kept informed of the latest forecasts and water management at Hume Dam. A public safety campaign coordinated by the MDBA is also raising the awareness of flood preparedness among people living and working on floodplains between Hume Dam and Yarrawonga. The recent La Nina alert increases the chance of wetter conditions and the chance of flooding.

In the northern Basin, many storages are full or near capacity following good winter rain. The Menindee Lakes System reached full capacity in September for the first time since 2012, which has provided a timely opportunity to provide flows into the Great Darling Anabranch. While unregulated flows continue in the River Murray, a call on water from the Menindee Lakes into the Murray is unlikely to be required until late spring at the earliest.

Authority members welcomed the discussion with Helen Vaughan, the Victorian member of the Basin Officials Committee, across a range of issues related to Basin Plan implementation, as well as the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 currently being considered by the Victorian Parliament. The bill aims to improve the level of transparency about water ownership and trading on the Victorian water register and to strengthen shortfall rationing and delivery rights.

In an update by the Inspector General of Water Compliance the Hon Troy Grant, Authority members were pleased to hear strong foundations have been laid to ensure this independent role can carry out the critical work of ensuring water agencies across jurisdictions are doing their job, noting the interconnected nature of issues across the Basin. Mr Grant emphasised the importance of meaningful communications and engagement by all agencies in order to earn community trust.

Chair of the Murray Lower Darling Region Indigenous Nations Grant Rigney provided a briefing on First Nations' involvement in the Murray Darling Water and Environment Research Program, with a focus on cultural water. Mr Rigney reiterated the objective of achieving cultural flows with allocations attached, and the need for greater inclusion of First Nations people in water management consultations to ensure an equitable contribution to decision-making. Members also welcomed the appointment of MLDRIN's new executive officer Karmen Jobling and thanked the outgoing executive officer Will Mooney for his collaborative approach to working with the MDBA.

Professor Rob Vertessy, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences, briefed the Authority on the committee's active consultation on a range of science-based activities underway by the MDBA. Notably, ACSEES' current focus is on providing a valuable sounding board for the development of the MDBA's science policy framework to ensure that the science being delivered to underpin the work ahead will meet the MDBA's needs.

Authority members approved the Annual Water Take Report 2019–20. This is a technical report that provides analysis of the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) accounts including water availability, trends in consumptive and environmental use, and assessments of compliance with the Murray–Darling Basin Cap on Diversions. Development of the report included consultation with Commonwealth and Basin state water agencies. Members agreed to its publication next month along with the 2020-21 SDLs and the Register of Measures at 30 June 2020.

Members received an update on discussions between the MDBA and NSW officials to progress the delivery of the state's water resource plans for assessment by the MDBA in the coming months.

The importance of social and economic considerations to the long-term success of adaptive water management was discussed by the Authority. Members agreed on the focus areas for the agency for the 2021-22 financial year which include:

  • greater effort to collect more evidence across all socio-economic impacts and benefits from recent water reform
  • sharing information to improve collective understanding of socio-economic conditions across the various communities of the Basin
  • improving transparency in how socio-economic impacts are considered in the MDBA's decision making.

The Authority encouraged a collaborative approach to this ongoing work to achieve outcomes of the greatest value for governments and communities.

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

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