As mentioned earlier in this report, the proposed amendment from the Northern Basin Review process and the sustainable diversion adjustment mechanism process have the potential to change the Basin-wide surface water recovery target.
The proposal to amend the Basin Plan to reduce the northern Basin recovery target by 70 GL was based on three years of additional economic and environmental research and analysis. During 2015–16, the Northern Basin Review teased apart the social and economic effects of different levels of environmental water recovery from other factors that are, and have been, driving changes in northern Basin communities. This research focused on small-scale community modelling in the cotton and floodplain grazing industries in particular. Unique economic modelling was produced to investigate economic impacts of the Basin Plan across a range of communities.
In some of the 21 communities studied, the analysis highlighted that factors other than the Basin Plan were the most prominent drivers of change, such as longer term trends in agriculture that reduce farm labour due to mechanisation and other productivity improvements. In others, the timing and pace of water recovery was seen as a significant issue. For example, the purchase of large parcels of water over very short periods of time was found to have longer-term effects as businesses take two to five years to adjust to the changes.
In a small number of communities however, it was identified that the implementation of the Basin Plan was having a significant impact on the economy and social structure. The research for the Northern Basin Review indicated that the proposed amendment could save jobs in irrigation-dependent communities, while still achieving environmental outcomes close to those expected under the current recovery target.
The MDBA also recommended that governments consider providing assistance to the most affected communities to help them adjust to the proposed changes, especially Dirranbandi and Warren.
The Australian Government has set up a taskforce to look at the best way to recover the remaining water in the northern Basin in ways that minimises the impact on communities.
In the southern Basin, the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism process could result in changes to the total surface water recovery target, and is specifically designed to improve the social, economic, and environmental outcomes from the Basin Plan.
The net effect of these two opportunities to amend the Basin Plan and the size of the remaining water recovery task will not be known until late in 2017.