I’ve started this year on the road listening to the views of hundreds of people living in the southern catchments of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Like the northern regions, I’ve heard many say enough water has already been recovered under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — although there are many others who advocate for staying the course.
The basin plan sets out the volume of water that needs to be recovered from consumptive use to assure a healthy and productive basin for future generations.
I strongly believe that the goals are worthwhile, the science is solid and the plan gives us the flexibility to work together to determine how we can best achieve outcomes that will benefit us all.
The basin plan water recovery volume for the southern basin can, and in all probability will, be changed.
However, this relies on all of us working together to find commonsense ways to achieve the environmental outcomes without reducing the volume of water available to communities and industries.
This process is called the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism. It’s something all basin states are committed to agreeing to this year.
It will fund projects to achieve water savings by making environmental watering more efficient, improving river management practices or overcoming some of the physical barriers to delivering water in the system.
And, importantly for communities, through this process the volume of water recovery that is still needed in the southern basin should reduce, resulting in a change to the sustainable diversion limit in the basin plan.
Currently, basin states are nominating projects and working with the MDBA to assess how much of a possible 650Gl of adjustment may be achievable in the southern basin.
This is a different process to the work we recently undertook concerning an appropriate volume of water recovery in the northern basin.
There the MDBA, with the help of communities and basin governments, undertook a review of the basin plan settings because less was known about our northern rivers when the plan was agreed in 2012.
That review, which included extensive community consultation along with ground-breaking economic, social and environmental research, led to the current proposal to amend the basin plan to reduce the water recovery volume for the north by 70Gl.
It has concerned me while visiting basin communities that there is an expectation that the 2017 interim evaluation of the plan will lead to changes in water recovery targets in the south. It won’t.
The evaluation will look at implementation of the basin plan to date and give governments and communities information about how we should approach future implementation to get the best environmental, social and economic outcomes.
I encourage anyone in the southern basin with an interest in the basin plan to focus on the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism, as this is the pathway that basin governments agreed should be used to look at changing the volume of water recovery through smarter ways of running the system.
I will continue to visit regions this year as the MDBA works with communities and others to undertake the interim evaluation of the basin plan and later to talk about progress with the adjustment mechanism.
I very much look forward to continuing the discussion about how we can best achieve the basin plan goals while minimising impacts on the people who live, work and play in the basin.
- Phillip Glyde, Murray-Darling Basin Authority Chief Executive