The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has written to Ministerial Council members and recommends progressing a variety of amendments to the Basin Plan.
After four years of extensive research and consultation, I'm confident these changes to the Basin Plan strike the right balance and will deliver a healthy and productive river system.
The MDBA is recommending the water recovery target for the Northern Basin be reduced from 390 gigalitres (GL) to 320GL.
This is provided there are commitments from Australian, Queensland and New South Wales governments to implement a range of measures aimed at improved water management in the north and to help the environment (toolkit measures).
Research confirmed that remaining at 390GL would have harmful social and economic outcomes for some irrigation communities. The environmental research established we will achieve only slightly lower environmental outcomes with a lowered reduction—and of course we recognise the health of our rivers is not just about volumes of water.
It's all about balancing the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the Basin Plan along with its long-term benefits.
The proposed 320GL recovery target is divided into a shared target (whole river-system) and local reduction targets (catchment-specific). The proposed amendments will see local targets increased to 279GL and shared targets lowered to 41GL—this acknowledges that in some local catchments there is a need to focus water recovery for the local environment.
We are also proposing other changes to groundwater systems and other minor practical changes that will streamline implementation and make the roll-out of the Basin Plan more effective and efficient.
The MDBA continues to recommend governments find ways to improve access to waterways for Aboriginal people and improve engagement in water planning and management.
The process for evaluating the Northern Basin, and making changes, was agreed to in the Basin Plan. In the Southern Basin, there are other activities occurring—the recommended amendments will not impact on the Southern Basin.
Our consultation process was far-reaching and extensive. As part of the Northern Basin review, we shared the initial social, economic and environmental research findings, we checked whether these findings resonated with communities, industries and interest groups, and we then conducted a more formal consultation process on the proposed amendments.
We heard a range of conflicting views and preferences. Through both our research and consultation results, we believe the recommended amendments strike the right balance for the health and production of the Basin.
The recommendations are now with the Ministerial Council members for response, and then a final recommendation will be delivered to the Australian Government Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources."
More information can be found at www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan-roll-out/basin-plan-amendments.
MDBA Chief Executive Phillip Glyde