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Celebrating World Rivers Day 2022

World Rivers Day (25 September) is an opportunity to celebrate achievements across the Basin.
Published: 25 September 2022

Since the mid-2000s, World Rivers Day has been a celebration of the world’s rivers, and a reminder of their pivotal role in supporting the economic, social, and cultural lives of river communities and First Nations people.

It is also a timely reminder of the delicate environmental factors that can influence healthy river systems as well as those in stress.

This year, we marked World Rivers Day on Sunday 25 September as we near the 10th anniversary of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan, which at its heart, aims to bring our Murray–Darling rivers and groundwater systems back to a sustainable level, while still supporting farming and other industries for the benefit of all Australians.

Menindee Lakes in western New South Wales
Menindee Lakes in western New South Wales

The Basin Plan was enacted in 2012 and is an extraordinary commitment six governments made to secure the future of the Murray–Darling Basin.

The Basin Plan:

  • sets aside water for the environment – which is managed by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
  • sets new rules on how much water can be taken at a catchment scale, ensuring limits are not exceeded over time – known as sustainable diversion limits
  • ensures water is prioritised for human needs particularly in times of drought
  • ensures water quality is monitored and targets for things like salinity are met
  • puts in place a consistent set of rules for the states across all catchments which are enforced by the Inspector-General of Water Compliance.

As we see high water flows and Basin dams near full capacity and recognise the hard work of so many people to manage the Basin, it is also important to mark World Rivers Day 2022 by contrasting the state of our Basin with other river systems throughout the world.

For example, the Yangtze River in China is the world’s third largest river and provides drinking water for 400 million people. It had reached record lows – some local media reports suggest the water flow in the Yangtze’s main trunk is more than 50% below the average of the past 5 years.

The lack of flow has uncovered ancient statues that have not been seen for hundreds of years. Perhaps a boost for tourism, but a dangerous situation for the cities and towns that rely on the Yangtze to support life and industry.

In the United States, the Colorado River has been significantly impacted by more than 2 decades of drought. In many ways the Colorado is like our Basin – running through 7 states in one country.

According to media reports the average flow of the Colorado River has declined almost 20% since the year 2000, with much of that attributed to higher temperatures.

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan provides a buffer against the types of extreme droughts being experienced by some of the world’s great river systems.

It is not that long ago that the Basin had its driest 3 years on record, and despite current wet times, we know droughts will return.

The Basin Plan is having significant and positive impacts on the Murray–Darling Basin’s environment. It has been crucial for sustaining water-dependent ecosystems during dry times.

Every 6 months we release a Basin Plan Report Card. It’s a transparent assessment of how the Plan is tracking and assesses 5 key elements:

  • water for the environment
  • the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism
  • water resource plans
  • Northern Basin initiatives
  • environmental water delivery.

The most recent Report Card highlighted, among other achievements, that 98% of water recovery – known as ‘bridging the gap’ – has been delivered, water for the environment is delivering outcomes, and that the Basin salinity target has been met for the 13th consecutive year.

Such achievements are worth recognising on World Rivers Day, but we also need to be aware that there remains work to be done to ensure sustainability for communities, industries, and First Nations throughout the Basin.

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