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Published: 29 July 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 28 and 29 July 2021. All members were present and the meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The MDBA head of river management, Andrew Reynolds, provided a briefing about current water availability in the Basin. Authority members discussed the water outlook and how the increase in available water since this time last year in most of the Basin is likely to bring improved community wellbeing, river health and productivity for farmers and industries. Members recognised that across its one million square kilometres, the Basin's conditions vary notably, with dry conditions in South Australia and parts of the Riverina and western New South Wales still drought affected.

The Bureau of Meteorology's July-to-September outlook is for likely above-median rainfall in the Basin and the MDBA is alert to flood warnings for several northern Basin rivers, which could contribute to further inflows to the Menindee Lakes. While wetter conditions are positive in the River Murray System, the MDBA is carefully managing the challenge of maximising the water stored in Hume Dam, which underpins state government allocations, while mitigating the impact of floods in the short term. Authority members encouraged continued engagement with communities to keep them informed of Hume Dam operations and to incorporate their feedback in planning where possible.

As of 27 July, water held in major Basin storages was 70 percent capacity in the northern Basin and 74 percent in the south, and Hume Dam was 77 percent and rising. River Murray System planning for the 2021-22 water year is well underway, with the Annual Operating Outlook expected to be published in the coming weeks.

Members were pleased about the strong attendance at the MDBA's recent webinar about activities in the northern Basin. This included an opportunity to work in collaboration with the New South Wales Government to discuss their plans to regulate floodplain harvesting – a vital element of the Basin Plan. Authority members stressed the value of sharing information and building an understanding of the differences between the river systems of the north and south, including the fact that only 5 percent of rainfall in the northern Basin ends up as flow in the rivers.

A high priority for the MDBA is the assessment of water resource plans (WRPs) submitted by New South Wales, to determine their consistency with provisions in Chapter 10 of the Basin Plan. Authority members acknowledged the ongoing effort required and considered the draft plans submitted for the Macquarie–Castlereagh (surface water), Murrumbidgee Alluvium and Macquarie–Castlereagh Alluvium resource areas.

Based on the MDBA's assessment to date, all proposed WRPs appear to contain some inconsistencies with the Basin Plan, which will likely result in New South Wales withdrawing the WRPs, making changes and resubmitting them in line with established protocols. This is not an unusual step as all other Basin states required changes before they could be recommended to the federal water minister for accreditation. The MDBA is meeting regularly with state officials to resolve issues relating to the suitable completion of WRPs. The Chair Sir Angus Houston and Chief Executive Phillip Glyde reported that earlier this week they had had a very constructive meeting with NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey to discuss these issues.

The Chair of the Independent Assurance Committee (IAC), Mr Allan Holmes reported on what was expected to be the last IAC meeting, pending the transition of the MDBA Office of Compliance to the Inspector-General of Water Compliance. Authority members commended and thanked Mr Holmes and the committee for their invaluable service since being engaged in early 2018 to provide rigorous external assurance on the MDBA's compliance role.

The Authority was also pleased to receive a report from Hon Mr Troy Grant, Interim Inspector-General of Water Compliance, and members look forward to working collaboratively with his office from its start-up in the near future.

Authority members welcomed a briefing from the Queensland Basin Officials Committee (BOC), member David Wiskar, Executive Director for Water Policy in the Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water. Mr Wiskar shared his state's perspectives and priorities relating to the recovery of the state's remaining environmental water and implementation of the northern Basin toolkit measures. Authority members reaffirmed BOC's pivotal role in facilitating cooperation and coordination between the Commonwealth, the Basin states and the MDBA on all matters relating to the Basin's water resources.

The Bureau of Meteorology's General Manager Water and Agriculture Matt Coulton briefed the Authority on the recently released Water Information Portal. This first version of the information portal went live on 29 June and brings together water information from across governments in a more accessible format for water users and communities, providing a one-stop shop for water storage, in-stream flows and trade information. The Authority commended how useful this water-related information would be for farmers, the community and water managers alike.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Rene Woods

Mr Phillip Glyde (Chief Executive)

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