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Published: 02 October 2019   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 1 October 2019 at Tailem Bend in South Australia to continue to progress the implementation of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and to consider challenges associated with managing water resources in the current drought conditions being experienced across the Basin.

An overview was provided of the below-average inflows to southern Basin dams that are dictating the MDBA's operational decisions in the River Murray system this season. Despite mild improvements in inflows across the Murray System in July and August, very dry conditions have returned, with River Murray inflows for September expected to be within the driest 5 per cent of September inflow on record. The Authority noted the climate outlook issued by the Bureau of Meteorology indicating that drier and warmer than average conditions will persist in coming months.

It was noted that environmental water holders in conjunction with river operators have coordinated a pulse flow from the Goulburn River with an increased release to the Murray River from Hume Dam to provide a spring fresh the length of the river. This targeted use of environmental water will provide important refuges and build resilience in the ecology should dry conditions continue as expected.

The Authority acknowledged the importance of water for the environment during dry periods, noting that with careful planning multiple sites along the length of the river will benefit as the fresh passes downstream. The Authority was also advised that the increased loss associated with inundation of floodplain forests will be debited from environmental water holder retail accounts ensuring that the use of environmental water does not impact the water available to other entitlement holders.

Rory Treweeke, Chair of the Basin Community Committee, appraised Authority members of the current pressures on local communities across the Basin, and the complexities of water management during drought, such as the installation and testing of water meters when there is no water available. Mr Treweeke reported on the BCC's meeting with Minister Littleproud and the opportunity to witness in Parliament the passing of legislation establishing an Indigenous member position on the Authority.

Members were updated on the Outlook stakeholder sessions in Wentworth the day before and the following day at Tailem Bend, hosted by the MDBA, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Agriculture and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. The session in Tailem Bend was the second in a series of four Outlook sessions in the southern Basin to inform local communities about river conditions, water availability and climate influences in the lead-up to summer. It was agreed this step to broaden community understanding was an important initiative and would build stakeholder awareness of measures to ensure water management was as efficient as possible in the face of dry conditions. They discussed how best to continue communicating the facts about the state of the Basin and agreed that regular and meaningful communication through a range of channels would be appreciated by stakeholders.

Authority members endorsed the flow management guidelines that will assist river and environmental water managers to assess impacts on water quality of river operations decisions. This has particular relevance during the drought, with the need to manage heightened risks associated with low flows including salinity, dissolved oxygen and blue-green algae. It was agreed that the guidelines would be applied and tested by river and environmental water managers for the next two years and thereafter amended to address any identified issues.

Members pressed ahead with assessments of water resource plans and agreed to recommend the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Water Resource Plan and the South Australian River Murray Water Resource Plan to the Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud for accreditation. This step would mark the completion of the MDBA's assessment of South Australia's plans, a significant milestone in the task of completing Water Resource Plans.

The Minister's recent accreditation of the Victorian Wimmera–Mallee's groundwater and surface water plans and the Queensland Border Rivers–Moonie and Condamine Balonne plans was welcomed, and members congratulated the Queensland Government on having its full suite of plans now accredited and fully operational. Further work will be required for the Authority to complete their assessment of the remaining Victorian and ACT water resource plans. While the Authority has not yet received plans from NSW, they noted all NSW plans had progressed to public consultation.

Responding to stakeholder concerns, the Authority reaffirmed the fundamental role of water resource plans in setting sustainable diversion limits that allow for full allocation and use of water up to that limit. Water resource plans are also required to achieve the same level of protection of planned environmental water that was within state plans in 2012. These requirements are reflected in the recent MDBA statement. The MDBA will continue to work with Basin governments and stakeholders to assess the impact of any changes in water management arrangements to ensure these Basin Plan requirements are met.

Members were pleased to have Mr Dan Jordan of the South Australian Department of Environment and Water join the meeting to discuss recent state activities. He noted the benefits of a collaborative approach to developing the state's water resource plans. The Authority welcomed the support of South Australia and noted the iterative nature of the Basin Plan requires that strong and collaborative relationships are maintained with all basin governments.

The chair of the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator, Mr Craig Knowles, board members Mr Bruce Brown and Ms Ilona Millar and the Chief Regulatory Officer Mr Grant Barnes were welcomed to the meeting to provide an update on compliance and enforcement activities over the past year in line with the MDBA­–NRAR Memorandum of Understanding. The report on outcomes of the 2018-19 joint work program was tabled with the Authority, who affirmed the value of effective, transparent and collaborative regulatory arrangements to the health and management of the Murray–Darling Basin. MDBA and NRAR Board members agreed to continue to work on collaborative compliance projects into the future.

The Authority members met with local South Australian stakeholders including local Mayors, representatives from the SA Nature Foundation, local irrigators, Coorong stakeholders and Basin Community Committee members. Members were also hosted by the SA Department of Environment and Water on a tour of the Lower Lakes and barrages and met with local community members in Goolwa and Meningie.

The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 12 and 13 November in Canberra.

ENDS

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