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Published: 29 April 2022

At its meeting on 28–29 April 2022 on Ngunnawal Country (Canberra), the Murray–Darling Basin Authority noted the meeting was held during federal caretaker period. The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston.

The Authority noted a summary of the water resource outlook for autumn and winter in the Basin. The La Niña weather pattern, which has filled the dams right across the Basin, is expected to linger into winter. The MDBA’s careful management of Hume Dam and Dartmouth Dam (at 86% and 93% respectively) will continue through winter. River operators will be keeping a vigilant watch on any need to reduce the risk of flooding by making pre-emptive releases to create airspace while keeping local communities well informed.

Across the Basin, storage levels are all unusually high for this time of year, particularly in the north, and this is supporting full allocations for water users. Storages are at 89% for the whole Basin. Members also noted that the MDBA will not need to draw water from Menindee Lakes any time soon.

Much of the focus of the meeting considered progress of implementation of the Basin Plan as well as preparation for the Basin Plan Evaluation and Review.

As is well known, some Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects are at risk of not being completed by the legislated timeframe of 2024. There is understandably increasing community concern about the potential shortfall, a sentiment shared by the MDBA. In 2017, the MDBA determined that implementing the 36 supply measures proposed by state governments would allow 605 GL of additional water to remain available for consumptive use, while still achieving the same or better environmental outcomes. These projects are to be completed by 30 June 2024. If they are not completed by then, the MDBA is required to conduct a ‘SDLAM reconciliation’.

To help inform the Authority’s decision making between now and 30 June 2024, members agreed to ongoing annual assurance reporting on SDLAM measures and other technical preparations. This overarching approach is supported by Basin states.

Members discussed and endorsed the MDBA’s high-level preparation that’s underway on three critical undertakings to inform the Basin’s water management future – the Murray–Darling Basin Outlook, the 2025 Evaluation and 2026 Basin Plan Review. Members stressed the MDBA’s commitment to open and timely engagement and communication to ensure communities and stakeholders are part of the conversation and decision-making process over this 4-year journey. More information will be shared on the roadmap to 2026 at the River Reflections annual water conference in Mildura in early June. Tickets are now available for in-person or virtual attendance.

The Authority carefully considered and endorsed the MDBA Strategy for Engagement with First Nations, noting that development of the strategy incorporated feedback from Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN). The strategy sets out the MDBA’s vision which is: “The MDBA works together with First Nations to achieve healthy rivers by incorporating First Nations science, expertise, knowledge, and values in water management”.

The Authority was briefed on the progress of assessing the two submitted New South Wales water resource plans (WRPs) – the Lachlan (surface water) and the Border Rivers Alluvium WRP. The MDBA anticipates receiving the remaining 18 New South Wales plans in the coming months.

Climate change and adaptation has been identified by the Authority as a key theme for the 2026 Basin Plan Review. Authority members welcomed an update by General Manager Applied Science Dr Matt Coleman on progress of the MDBA’s climate work program. The strategy positions the MDBA’s role in climate adaptation as the holder of Basin-scale information on climate change impacts and risks, and as a facilitator of science, community and government connections to support coordinated and holistic adaptation efforts.

It was with keen interest and appreciation that Authority members received updates from the following presenters:

  • Independent Principal Adviser to the Australian Government on water market reform Daryl Quinlivan who provided a comprehensive report on the roadmap
  • Michael Anderson, Chair of Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN), on his organisation’s current renewal process
  • WaterTrust Australia representatives Kathryn Fagg, Nick Austin and Rod Marsh who introduced their new organisation to the Authority and outlined potential opportunities for collaboration and cooperation
  • New South Wales Department of Planning and the Environment representatives Dan Connor and Peter Hyde who discussed floodplain harvesting in New South Wales and how it will be incorporated into their WRPs.

Authority Chair Sir Angus Houston and other members sincerely thanked outgoing Authority member Ms Joanna Hewitt AO for her immense contributions as this meeting concluded her four-year term. Sir Angus commended Ms Hewitt for bringing a firm commitment to strong governance and continued momentum to water reform in her time on the Authority, including as acting Authority Chair for a considerable period. Ms Hewitt’s depth of experience from working at a senior level in the areas of agriculture, foreign and trade policy of the Australian Public Service had been greatly valued. All members wished Ms Hewitt well in her future endeavours. They noted new member Dr Jane Doolan is due to take up her role in late May and looked forward to meeting her. They also welcomed the appointment of new Chief Executive Andrew McConville who will take up the reins in late June.

The next Authority meeting will be held in Mildura on First People of Latji Latji Country in late May 2022. This Authority meeting will be held before the River Reflections annual water conference with the Basin Community Committee and Basin Officials Committee also taking the opportunity for a joint meeting. Members look forward to meeting in the Sunraysia district.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)
Professor Stuart Bunn
Ms Roseanne Healy
Ms Joanna Hewitt AO
Ms Susan Madden
Mr Rene Woods
Andrew Reynolds (acting Chief Executive)

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