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Published: 11 March 2022

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met on 10–11 March 2022 on Ngunnawal Country (Canberra) with one member joining by videoconference from Kaurna Country (Adelaide). The meeting was chaired by Sir Angus Houston with all members present.

The Authority reflected on the extreme weather conditions and extraordinary rainfall totals northern New South Wales, the greater Sydney region and southern Queensland have received in the past few weeks. Their thoughts are with those who have lost their loved ones and livelihoods.

Across the Murray–Darling Basin, water storage levels remain high at 92%, an unusual position to be in at the end of summer. The Bureau of Meteorology's 3-month outlook (March – May) indicates we are likely to exceed the median rainfall across the Basin. La Niña is forecast to persist into early autumn. Acting Director, River Management, Andrew Kremor said with the current high storage level in both Dartmouth Dam and Hume Dams, there is a possibility of water releases to create airspace in winterspring. The MDBA's river operators will continue to work closely with impacted floodplain landholders and communities to ensure there is clear and transparent information provided about any flood operations that are undertaken.

Inflows to the Menindee Lakes from the widespread rainfall in November last year have started to recede. The blackwater event at the head of the flow into the lakes has been successfully diluted by WaterNSW river operators to minimise risks of fish deaths. The watchpoint for river managers across the Murray–Darling system is now blue-green algae and the risk of potential blooms, particularly as temperatures remain warm.

As floodwaters make their way through the Murray River, the system is slowly returning to regulated conditions. In the Lower Darling, spill rates from Menindee Lakes are also decreasing. Under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, the MDBA may order water from Menindee Lakes but with the wet outlook, any volume called is likely to be small.

Members were briefed on the progress of the $7.5m Basin Condition Monitoring Program which is funded through the Australian Government's Murray–Darling Community Investment Package as part of their response to the Sefton report. The program aims to develop a deeper understanding at the local level of the key social, economic, environmental and cultural trends and challenges in the Basin. It will draw on the lived experience and expertise of the MDBA's regional community forums who have contributed greatly to shaping the projects. The Authority is expected to sign off on final projects by mid-2022 for public release. This program continues the Authority's emphasis on building stronger and deeper connections with communities in the Basin.

Planning is commencing for the 2025 Basin Plan Evaluation and at this month's meeting, members discussed a high-level roadmap for this evidence-based assessment process. Every five years the MDBA takes stock of the Basin Plan, how it's being implemented to determine what's working, and where improvement is needed.

The first of New South Wales revised water resource plans (WRPs) has been received for assessment by the MDBA (Borders Rivers Alluvium). Water resource plans are the engine room of the Basin Plan. WRPs bring into effect all the key elements of water management, including SDL accounting. There are now 13 plans accredited and operational across Victoria, Queensland, the ACT and South Australia. New South Wales has 20 plans to deliver and plans to provide the remaining 19 in coming months. Members stressed the importance of the MDBA continuing to be diligent and thorough in its assessment to ensure the plans meet the 55 requirements of the Basin Plan.

Members received an update on the $66 million program to upgrade and integrate the Murray–Darling Basin's 24 river models. This investment is to make the Basin's River models fit for purpose for the future and to increase transparency by providing public access to modelling information and insights. The program (to be completed by 2026) is currently in the initiation phase and is focused on establishing partnerships with Basin states.

Members also received an update from Lyn O'Connell (Deputy Secretary) and Rachel Connell (First Assistant Secretary) from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The next Authority meeting will be held in Canberra on Ngunnawal Country in April 2022.

Sir Angus Houston (Chair)

Professor Stuart Bunn

Ms Roseanne Healy

Ms Joanna Hewitt AO

Ms Susan Madden

Mr Rene Woods

Mr Andrew Reynolds (acting Chief Executive)

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