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Published: 06 May 2021   •   Communiques

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 5 and 6 May 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 welcomed the outcome of the Ministerial Council meeting last week to progress the Sustainable Diversion Limited Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects. The SDLAM projects – a key part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – are designed to offset the need to recover an additional 605GL of water. Community support is vital for these projects to proceed so members were encouraged by the renewed sense of focus and cooperation.

On Tuesday this week the MDBA hosted a webinar on the Menindee Lakes. The MDBA is aware of community concerns relating to the management of the lakes, in particular what happens when the lakes reach 640GL and become part of the shared resource between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The purpose of the webinar was to share more information on the history of the lakes and respond to questions from participants. WaterNSW is now forecasting up to 950 GL of water will reach the lakes following the significant rainfall event in the northern Basin in March this year.

The Authority noted the introduction of amendments to the New South Wales Government's Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 which has important implications for the Basin Plan. The Authority reiterated the importance of licencing, measuring and compliance of all forms of water take.

Assessing the remaining NSW water resource plans (WRPs) continues to be a priority for the MDBA. Preliminary assessment of all NSW groundwater WRPs has been completed by the MDBA. All proposed NSW WRPs appear to be inconsistent with Basin Plan requirements. Some of these inconsistencies are policy related and other are technical in nature.

The New South Wales Government has already withdrawn the Namoi plans, and the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee surface water plans. As a result of the inconsistencies, it's likely the New South Wales Government will withdraw all WRPs, make changes and resubmit them for assessment. This is not an unusual step as all other Basin states have had inconsistencies identified in their initial water resource plans, and changes have been required before they can be recommended to the federal water minister for accreditation.

The Interim Inspector-General (IIG) of Water Compliance, The Hon Troy Grant provided an update on the proposed legislative changes that will see the MDBA's compliance function moved across to the IIG. Both the IIG and the Authority are committed to maintaining a close collaborative relationship throughout the change, while respecting their independent roles and responsibilities.

Members welcomed a briefing from Chief Regulatory Officer at the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), Mr Grant Barnes. He outlined the way in which NRAR's compliance capability has rapidly evolved since inception in 2018. The regulator is strategically targeting non-compliance investigations. This improvement has been assisted by the ‘eyes in the sky' satellite intelligence in partnership with the MDBA and GeoScience Australia.

Chair of the Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACSEES), Prof Rob Vertessy provided an update to members on the last meeting of ACSEES held on 20 and 21 April 2021. ACSEES is providing valuable input on the Murray–Darling Water and Environment Research Program,  climate change and integrated monitoring and evaluation programs. 

Interim Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Mr Hilton Taylor shared some recent environmental watering highlights of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office. Mr Taylor's update also included a briefing on the soon to be released Environmental Water Holder's First Nations Engagement Strategy.

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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