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Published: 24 March 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 23 March 2021. All members were present except Phillip Glyde who was represented by Acting Chief Executive, Andrew Reynolds. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

Members expressed their concern for communities in New South Wales and Queensland impacted by the extraordinary rainfall and flooding. While most of the rain has fallen east of the Great Dividing Range, communities such as Moree are coping with flooding as rivers continue to rise in the Murray-Darling Basin to the west. We remain alert to the changing conditions as the full extent of the impact of the rainfall including flood impacts will become clearer in coming days.

Members heard an update on the MDBA's approach to climate adaptation planning including February's workshop with Basin governments to discuss approaches to climate change adaptation. Considerable action has occurred at the state level which the MDBA can learn from in applying actions at a Basin scale.

The Authority members discussed the recent Basin Climate Resilience Summit in Canberra, which was opened by Authority Chair, Sir Angus Houston and attended by members Stuart Bunn and Joanna Hewitt. Members reflected on the constructive outcomes of the summit and the value of helping facilitating new connections between leaders so climate adaptation initiatives and efforts could be multiplied.

Members noted that the Murray–Darling Water and Environment Research Program has moved into a collaborative planning phase. The MDBA along with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office are shaping the 3 to 4-year program with research partners. This includes research to fill critical knowledge gaps around climate adaptation.

The Authority was updated on the assessment of the remaining NSW water resource plans against the requirements of the Basin Plan. The previously submitted Namoi (both surface water and ground water) water resource plans have been withdrawn by the NSW Government to make them consistent with the Basin Plan before resubmission for assessment. This is not an unusual step – all other Basin States have had inconsistencies identified in their initial water resource plan submissions and changes have been required before they could be recommended to the federal water minister for accreditation.

The Authority was briefed on the outcomes of the River Murray Capacity and Delivery Shortfall project. This project was initiated in response to a concern within governments and communities of an increasing risk of the Murray system not being able to meet demands – known as shortfall. The MDBA has been meeting with a range of stakeholders to explain the findings of the Managing Deliverability Risks in the River Murray System report including irrigation customer committees, local government, Traditional Owners, environmental groups, catchment management agencies, the Basin Community Committee and regional interest groups.

Along with face-to-face engagement in Deniliquin, Finley, Barmah, Mildura, Dareton, Renmark and Murray Bridge, more than 20 online briefings have been held. The MDBA also hosted the first in a new webinar series on the issue. The Capacity issues – Managing delivery risks in the River Murray webinar looked at changes in water use through the Murray River over the past 25 years and how they have influenced system and delivery risks. With a broader understanding of the issues, the MDBA will now begin focusing on options to manage flow capacity in the Barmah-Millewa reach of the Murray River.

The new Interim Inspector-General (IIG) of Water Compliance, Troy Grant met the Authority for the first time to discuss the activities of his office. Members warmly welcomed Mr Grant who was appointed to the position by the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt in December 2020. Members discussed the progress of the draft legislation to move the compliance function from the MDBA to the office of the IIG, which the government hopes to see enacted later this year. Both the IIG and the Authority committed to work closely while respecting their independent roles and responsibilities.

The Chair of the Independent Assurance Committee (IAC), Mr Allan Holmes provided an update to the Authority on the 18 March 2021 meeting of the committee. The IAC provides external assurance over the MDBA's compliance role through the provision of independent expert advice on the design, implementation and adequacy of the MDBA's compliance program. The committee meets up to four times a year. The IAC provided advice to the MDBA on a range of compliance-related activities and noted that it had also met recently with the Interim Inspector-General for Water Compliance and his staff.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Rene Woods

Mr Andrew Reynolds (Acting Chief Executive)

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