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Published: 26 November 2020   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met in Canberra on 25-26 November. All members were present and the meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

Sir Angus expressed his gratitude to the South Australian Riverland community for a rewarding visit to the district between Waikerie and Renmark in early November. Members of the Renmark Irrigation Trust, the Renmark–Paringa local council and tourism representatives generously shared examples of local collaboration to manage water for long-term environmental, irrigation and community benefit. Sir Angus regretted having to leave the state prematurely on account of COVID advice and looks forward to returning in the new year.

Members noted that the draft assessment of eight of New South Wales's 11 proposed groundwater water resource plans (WRPs) are well progressed. They were pleased to see the assessment of the nine surface water WRPs is well underway and reviewed the partial draft assessments for the NSW Border Rivers, Barwon Darling and Macquarie Castlereagh surface water plans.

Members emphasised the importance of receiving advice from Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations on the adequacy of consultation about First Nations' water values and uses to inform all assessments. They also reaffirmed that all plans need to be consistent with the provisions of Chapter 10 of the Basin Plan or they would not be able to recommend them to the Minister for Water for accreditation.

The MDBA is committed to working cooperatively with New South Wales to complete the assessment of remaining water resource plans as quickly as possible. Authority members stressed the need for timely advice to New South Wales to facilitate any requirements of revised water sharing plans.

The Executive Director of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, briefed members on Basin water resource availability and key management activities in the River Murray System. The La Nina conditions continue to suggest a wetter than average summer for most of the Basin, following average to very much above average October rainfall that raised storage levels and prompted increases in state water allocations. MDBA-managed Upper Murray storages are at 69% capacity at 11 November, while total storage in the northern Basin is 27% compared to 9% at the same time last year. It remains concerning that in the northern Basin some areas are still dry, flow in the Barwon-Darling is now receding and the Peel and lower Namoi valleys remain in drought stage 3. We remain hopeful that wetter conditions forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology to February 2021 result in improvements for communities in these areas.

Access to unregulated flows is keenly sought by entitlement holders in the NSW mid-Murray region and the MDBA is actively planning around each emerging rain event and coordinating with NSW agencies to ensure supplementary access is provided as early as appropriate if unregulated conditions emerge. Given the strong community interest, the MDBA is working to make more information on these decisions publicly available.

A campaign to gather interest in potential membership of the new Basin Community Committee from mid-2021 was encouraged by the Authority. Expressions of interest close on 3 December 2020. Reporting on the Basin Community Committee's current deliberations, the chair Phil Duncan noted the importance of building knowledge and understanding of climate scenarios, including what a healthy working river might look like into the future. As well as the future availability and quality of water, the committee is eager to influence longer-term thinking about the health and wellbeing of communities, river ecosystems and industries.

Authority members underlined the value of collaboration and cooperation with the First Nations representative bodies—the Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN), who collectively represent more than 40 of the First Nations within the Basin. MLDRIN deputy chair Grant Rigney and NBAN chair Fred Hooper briefed the Authority on their priorities and discussed the critical nature of First Nations' involvement in the lead-up to the 2026 review of the Basin Plan and future opportunities for adaptation of the Basin Plan. Authority members resolved to address the concerns raised, including First Nations' involvement in water planning and the impact of proposed infrastructure projects.

The Authority discussed the finalisation of the 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation. The Evaluation will be published imminently along with all relevant data and technical evidence in line with the MDBA's open access policy.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik, reported that the spring environmental watering events are fully underway in the Basin, bringing welcome flows to water-dependent ecosystems. She noted that the relaxation of constraints to achieve Basin Plan environmental outcomes is an ongoing challenge, as is the active protection, shepherding and accounting for environmental water.

Ms Swirepik affirmed the benefits of recent on-site stakeholder engagement in South Australia alongside Sir Angus Houston and Phillip Glyde. The Authority stressed the benefits of working together in the coming year to embrace the challenges in delivering and protecting environmental water in the Murray–Darling Basin.

ENDS

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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