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Part 1: Protect and enhance the shared water resources and environmental assets of the Basin

Strategy 1.5
Develop policy options to respond to demonstrated risks of significance to shared water resources, including integrated use of surface and groundwater

The Risks to Shared Water Resources (RSWR) Program aims to gain a better understanding of the likelihood and consequences of risk factors impacting on water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin. Implementation includes assessment of the risk factors, particularly climate change and development of policy responses, to help manage risks.

The program escalated in the past 12 months as Ministerial Council directed that a RSWR Strategy be developed by September 2007. The program undertook further assessment of currently identified risk factors (that is, farm dams, bush fires, groundwater, return flows, afforestation and climate change).

The risk program work scopes the extent of impacts on shared water resources. The Prime Minister and Premiers agreed in November 2006 to commission the CSIRO to develop the ‘MDB Sustainable Yields Project’. This is designed to inform the development of an integrated ground and surface water cap.

In summary, resource assessments carried out during 2006–07 highlighted that:

  • flows in the Basin have already been changed by the identified risk factors, but the impact varies seasonally, between catchments and between regulated and un-regulated systems
  • the identified risk factors impact on the sharing of water resources between users within Cap valleys, agreements between states and the water available for environmental purposes
  • the regional economic impact of potential reductions in water availability in the Basin could be substantial
  • there are substantial data and information gaps and uncertainties in relation to the estimates of the extent, potential growth and impact of the six identified risk factors
  • previous estimates of the potential for afforestation expansion, and thus the potential hydrological impact in the Basin, have been revised down
  • groundwater use in the basin still has the potential to increase and impact on the availability of surface water resources but this varies in any given year and between regions, and
  • groundwater levels across the Basin have, in general, continued to decline.

Reports released during 2006–07 included:

  • Preliminary review of selected factors that may change future flow patterns in the River Murray System
  • Summary of Estimated Impact of Groundwater Use on Streamflow in the Murray-Darling Basin, and
  • Evaluation of the connectivity between surface water and groundwater in the Murray-Darling Basin.

MDBC agreed to development of a strategy to address the risks to shared water resources by September 2007 consistent with the Risks Framework agreed in August 2006. A symposium on these risks, to be held in July 2007, aims to gain jurisdictional agreement to preferred policy responses to the six identified risk factors and thus form the basis of the strategy.

Development of policy options for consideration at the RSWR Symposium during 2006–07 included:

  • an overview of the statutory framework for the RSWR in each jurisdiction
  • a detailed analysis of regulatory frameworks for the management of groundwater, farm dams and afforestation by the Jurisdictional Risk Coordinators, which will be released on the MDBC website
  • identification and assessment of groundwater policy options through a jurisdictional workshop, and
  • formation of the Farm Dams Taskforce to provide policy advice on farm dams including monitoring, evaluation, auditing and reporting requirements.

South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative

The MDBC is the managing agency for the South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative (SEACI), a three-year (beginning in 2006), $7 million collaboration of the MDBC, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Managing Climate Variability Program of Land & Water Australia.

SEACI aims to improve understanding of climate change and climate variability in south-eastern Australia. It pursues research on three linked themes: defining current climate; predicting future climate; and improving seasonal forecasting.

The SEACI website provides regular updates of progress and is hosted by the MDBC.

SEACI’s annual report outlined a number of significant advances in quality controlling datasets, analysis and refinement of climate models and increasing understanding of climate influences. The results of its research have highlighted the uniqueness of the past decade in south-eastern Australia, characterised by a complete absence of above-average rainfall and consistent below-average rainfall. This information will be used to inform both operational and strategic policy initiatives (for example, development of the RSWR Strategy) within the MDBC.

Dead carp at Banrock Station. Photo: Mark Lintermans

Dead carp at Banrock Station. Recent research has shown that, while native fish tend to return from a
wetland to the river at the first sign of a receding water level, carp will swim deeper into the wetland,
eventually becoming stranded.

(Photo: Mark Lintermans)