This month’s bipartisan agreement by the Federal Parliament to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is one we can all applaud.
For irrigation communities, it signals a strengthened commitment to the health of our rivers and local economy, and adds momentum to the work needed to manage our water resources over the coming decades.
The renewed collaboration this agreement has generated means the basin plan can be implemented in the way it was always intended.
It will ease the plan’s socio-economic impacts by reducing the water recovery load by 605Gl in the southern basin, in return for delivering 605Gl in value for the environment.
State governments can now pick up pace on the 36 projects that will achieve this target, and ensure nature gets the greatest benefit from water in the environmental account.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is working alongside governments to ensure their projects deliver the modelled water savings by 2024.
The projects will involve things like getting water onto the Burra Creek floodplain, watering Gunbower National Park and restoring a wetting-drying regime to the Yanco Creek system.
They also involve varying the rules around the use of Victorian and NSW environmental accounts and the release of water from Hume Dam.
This represents a step-change in how river operators manage the river.
Our systems have been developed over 100 years to deliver water for consumptive use — changes to the rules will now put the delivery of water for the environment on an equal footing.
Now that the projects have the green light, I urge people to get involved as the state governments begin the process of consultation.
We only have six years to have them all designed, built, operating and delivering the anticipated environmental gains.
On the other side of the ledger, the Federal Parliament’s decision also means the opportunity remains for irrigators and water delivery agencies to modernise their irrigation systems in the coming years, through the government-funded 450Gl water efficiency projects.
Essential to the successful amendment of the basin plan was confidence that all parties to the plan were putting in place genuine improvements to compliance and enforcement activities.
We are heading in the right direction — recent changes to practices in NSW and protection of environmental water in the northern basin are testament to that.
The strengthened commitment we are now seeing to all aspects of the basin plan is critical as we get on with the job of working for all Australians to deliver a sustainable future for the Murray-Darling Basin.