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Published: 29 May 2020   •   Communiques

As the close of autumn brings a striking turnaround in climate conditions, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority welcomes signs of a boost in confidence across the Basin thanks to recent rain and an improved forecast for water availability. Already the River Murray system has experienced the best April inflows for more than two years. This much anticipated change is easing some of the pressure on communities who have lived through drought for several years and are now having to cope with changed circumstances due to the COVID-19.

The positive outlook of a wetter and cooler than average winter must be seen in the context of the continuing effects of drought. Overall, storages are still below average and projected opening allocations in many communities are still low. Months of above-average rainfall is still needed to fully recover from the record-dry times of 2017 to 2019.

We have been taking all reasonable steps in the Murray system to maximise the amount of water captured in storages for everyone's benefit. We also note that the tremendous inflows to Menindee Lakes — now at 25 per cent capacity — are nonetheless unlikely in the short term to be sufficient to deliver the 640 gigalitres needed to trigger commencement of the sharing of the lakes' water resources with downstream states and to supplement Murray system resources.

In this National Reconciliation Week, we acknowledge the indelible connection between the Basin's 40 Aboriginal nations and the rivers and wetlands that give life to the land and people. As Authority members, we are committed to ensuring the diverse and valuable knowledge of First Nations'; people can be brought to the forefront of water management considerations. To that end, we encourage steps underway by the leadership of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Basin Community Committee to strengthen their collaboration and exchange of ideas. The shared interests and understanding of these three key advisory groups that straddle the Basin will provide a rich avenue for engagement to further spiritual and cultural wellbeing across all communities.

Achieving each milestone of the Basin Plan involves the dedicated and collaborative effort of a great many agencies and community members. This month, following assessment by the MDBA, we were pleased to recommend for accreditation the Australian Capital Territory';s water resource plans for surface water and groundwater to the Minister for Water Keith Pitt. We acknowledge the work of the Dhawura Ngunnawal Committee and the ACT Government to ensure the plans were of the highest standard. We also appreciated the considered advice of Rene Woods, Chair of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. We look forward to receiving for assessment the final tranche of water resource plans required under the Basin Plan, which cover surface water in New South Wales. We anticipate delivery of the plans by the end of June.

Of great currency at the moment is the MDBA's work to analyse trends in water use and consider patterns of underuse in the southern Basin. We welcome the targeted consultation with stakeholders in June to explore this matter. The final report will be released later this year. At this stage, there may be some underuse by some water users who choose not to use all the water allocated to them in the water year. It';s important to note that river managers work to ensure all available water is delivered as efficiently as possible. There is no ‘spare'; water—any water that isn';t used is carried over or reallocated for use in next irrigation year. We look forward to the results of the investigation into this multi-faceted issue being broadly communicated in the coming months.

In a related matter, we are pleased to endorse the MDBA's sustainable diversion limit accounting improvement strategy as a means of continual improvement in the complex field of accounting for water use against the stipulations of the Basin Plan. The MDBA will turn its attention to implementing the strategy and providing updates according to the strategy's schedule.

We welcome progress underway to improve compliance reporting and metering across the Basin. Implementing new and universal metering standards is clearly a big job and though the rate of progress is slow, foundational work is moving ahead and confidence among communities is building. The 2020–21 compliance priorities are being developed by the MDBA Office of Compliance in consultation with the state governments. We encouraged the MDBA to continue working closely with the states to add value to their work to protect water in the system and the integrity of licences to use water within the rules.

We continue to appreciate the expert contribution of the independent science advisory panel through the Chair, Professor Rob Vertessy. Of particular note this month was the high value provided by the CSIRO-led review of scientific information about the Lower Lakes. Commissioned by the panel, it is an impressive example of successful scientific collaboration that can shed light on matters important to Basin communities and policy makers alike.

Importantly, in the face of COVID-19, as Authority members we continue to perform our regular duties online, and MDBA staff who are working from home in accordance with government advice are fully effective and the delivery of the agency';s responsibilities continue unabated. While engagement with our stakeholder has been necessarily pared back, the agency is looking forward to resuming face-to-face connection with Basin communities in the weeks and months ahead.

Professor Stuart Bunn (Acting Chair)

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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