Basin plan eases drought pain

By Country News

Those on the land know better than anyone that drought means tough decisions and many risks to be weighed up.

Drought also demands good risk management when it comes to managing our limited shared water resources to best meet the needs of all water entitlement holders, including both irrigators and the environment.

In the southern Murray-Darling Basin the season is quite challenging.

Inflows to the Murray during October have been in the lowest 10 per cent of years on record.

As a result, water availability currently varies significantly in different parts of the system.

There is reasonable water availability in Victoria, with allocations in the two main systems making steady improvement throughout the season.

In NSW, the Murray high-security allocation is at 97 per cent; however, the NSW Murray general security allocation remains at zero.

There are two key reasons for this.

Firstly, what rain we have had has fallen mainly in the Victorian Alps.

Under long-established water sharing arrangements, water coming into the Murray from Victorian tributaries remains a Victorian resource.

This has seen water availability in Victoria continue to increase over the season while much lower flows into NSW tributaries has seen the NSW position improve much more slowly than Victoria’s.

Secondly, there are differing water allocation arrangements established by the states, which have meant that Victoria started this season with water allocations already available, due to their more conservative water allocation in the preceding year.

Given the dry conditions, Murray-Darling Basin Authority river operators in conjunction with state water resource managers have been particularly conscious of operating the system as efficiently as possible, while ensuring we move water through the system so it is available and in the right place to meet demands over summer and into 2019.

Large transfers of water from Dartmouth Dam to Hume Dam have commenced and are likely to continue well into next year.

Dartmouth Dam is used as a drought reserve and is generally called on in the second year of low inflows. That is the situation we are in now.

While the outlook for water availability is challenging, we are much better positioned to manage through dry times now as a result of the basin plan than we were through the millennium drought.

By Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde.