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Published: 02 March 2020   •   Opinion pieces

This time two months ago just about all of New South Wales was drought declared.

The focus was rightly on ensuring communities had enough critical water until rains came.

Thanks to significant rain in parts of northern New South Wales and Queensland since mid-January, some rivers are now flowing again, some at flood level.

For many people in the northern Basin this signals the first major break in the drought since the Basin Plan was signed into law in 2012.

For others it's a flood in a drought—people are still doing it tough from lack of rain while the river is running high past their backyard.

In line with the Basin Plan, these first flows have been protected and are expected to reach Menindee Lakes this month. We are watching this water closely via satellite as it heads into the heart of the Basin and will notify the states if we see anyone doing anything wrong.

It is testament to the Basin Plan that irrigators in Queensland knew the rules, and therefore knew when they could start taking water in line with the state government's water resource plans.

Water resource plans are a fundamental part of the Basin Plan. They set clear, transparent rules on how much water can be taken from every catchment in the system and are published for all to see.

Credit is also due to the New South Wales Government for imposing wide-ranging embargoes on water extraction to protect these first flows, as they had agreed to do. However, downstream water users were confused and criticised the partial lifting of the embargoes. These decisions appeared ad-hoc and were not transparent. We will work with both state governments after this event to identify where processes and transparency can be further improved.

Confidence is built when communities and water users know the rules. Water resource plans provide this transparency and confidence. They are published for all to see, so ahead of time, water users know what they can or can't do.

We look forward to the New South Wales Government putting forward water resource plans for accreditation. Transparent rules build confidence and confidence builds trust. Quite rightly, communities need to trust that governments are actively managing this finite resource as they agreed they would.  All other states and the ACT have submitted their plans and all Queensland and South Australian plans have been accredited.

There's a variety of water users with an interest in this transparency—tourists, families and communities, First Nations people, irrigators, industries and of course the needs of the environment itself, which underpins all other needs.

Our job at the MDBA is to keep an unbiased and whole of Basin perspective. That's what Australians expect us to do. This unwavering commitment is more important than ever because water is scarce, and it is becoming scarcer.


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