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Published: 21 October 2020   •   Communiques

Meetings of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority were held on 12, 19 and 20 October. All members were present. The meetings were chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

Sir Angus Houston expressed his deep appreciation to the many members of the NSW Riverina community who generously gave their time and expertise in early October during his first listening tour. Angus was impressed with the informative and diverse perspectives about water management offered by a wide range of stakeholders in the region between Leeton, Deniliquin and Albury. He will return to the area in the new year, and in the meantime is planning to visit the Murray region in South Australia.

In the spirit of strengthened collaboration between governments and community, members welcomed their first ever joint meeting of the Basin Community Committee, the Basin Officials Committee and the Authority on 20 October. The meeting was an important opportunity to focus on building a culture of genuine engagement and trust with communities and between governments, and to exchange insights about state and federal priorities and policy challenges over the next 12 months. Participants committed to hold joint sessions on a regular basis.

Members welcomed the Federal Budget announced this month, which provided the MDBA with its baseline funding as well as $7.5m over four years to improve the tracking and monitoring of ecological, economic and social conditions in the Basin. Importantly, an additional $0.7m will be used this year to prepare a business case to upgrade the MDBA's 20-year old modelling platform to ensure it is fit for future needs.

The Executive Director of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, provided a briefing on water resource availability across the Basin and key water management activities in the River Murray System. Notable rainfall in the southern Basin during October has followed average to below-average rain in June to September. As a result, storage levels in the southern Basin dams have increased, as has confidence in the season ahead. Although the Bureau of Meteorology's rainfall outlook to December in the northern Basin is wetter than average in accordance with the La Nina conditions, storages in the north continue to be low and communities in many areas are still coping with very dry conditions.

The Authority progressed its assessments of NSW water resource plans against the 55 requirements of the Basin Plan. MDBA officers have engaged regularly with NSW officials on issues identified in the proposed groundwater and surface water plans and where possible is assisting NSW with advice and solutions. The Authority emphasised the importance of robust processes to ensure the requirements of the Basin Plan were applied consistently to water resource plans across the Basin.

Members reviewed draft groundwater assessments for the Murrumbidgee and Gwydir Alluvium water resource plans, as well as a draft surface water assessment for the Lachlan and a partial assessment for the Gwydir. Effective engagement with First Nations people is required before the Authority can complete and finalise these assessments. While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed engagement with First Nations people, the Authority is pleased progress is being made by Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations in the face of challenging restrictions.

The Authority provided input and advice ahead of the public release of joint climate change science work, which includes the important scenario assessments completed in partnership with the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology. This research identifies a range of possible climate scenarios (temperature, rainfall, evaporation and soil moisture) and the likely impact on river flows and connectivity. The Authority emphasised the importance of continuing to refine the research so it's relevant at a local level and can therefore help prepare communities and water managers for the challenges of a changing climate.

Authority members discussed the latest version of the 2020 Evaluation, focusing particularly on the recommendations and the release strategy. It is one of the most critical pieces of work underway by the MDBA and is expected to be released by the end of the year. This major effort will reflect on progress and outcomes of the past eight years and steer the Basin Plan's implementation path to 2026.

In considering the submission to the ACCC's interim report into Murray–Darling Basin water markets, the Authority reiterated the importance of the maturing water market and endorsed the ACCC's view that further reform was required, including greater transparency and stronger governance. Any reform will need to have the full support of the states as the primary policy makers and market regulators, bearing in mind that state trade mechanisms need to align with the Basin Plan water trading rules. The Authority suggested a focus on consistency across jurisdictions supported by a set of minimum standards as a way forward.

The Authority endorsed the five-yearly review of the Environmental Watering Plan completed. The review found the Environmental Watering Plan is working well, providing clear guidance and direction in how and where to use water for the environment for the long-term benefit of the Basin. In terms of improvement, the Authority will pursue opportunities to streamline implementation of plan, strengthen First Nation involvement and increase the level of climate adaptiveness.

The next meeting of the Authority will be on 3 November 2020.


Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

Ms Susan Madden (Expert Adviser)

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