Basin targets at high risk Authority warns

By Country News

A number of efficiency measures are at a ‘high risk’ of missing their June 2019 targets, with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority revealing less than 2Gl of the 62Gl target had been contracted for delivery.

Of the seven key elements of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan assessed under the MDBA report card released last month, one was a high risk, another at risk of delay and a third was assessed as ‘substantial work ahead’.

The 62Gl marker ensures the entire 605Gl can legally be returned to the consumptive pool under the basin plan, with a total of $1.5billion set aside through legislation to recover the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ by 2024.

‘‘So there is a high risk that the 62Gl will not be met (by the June 30 deadline) ... and a risk that the program objective of recovering 450Gl by 2024 will not be fully met,’’ the MDBA report card into the basin plan said.

Victoria has previously pledged to contribute 9Gl to the initial 62Gl target as a result of efficiency upgrades, including channel upgrading, improved system viability and pipe lining for stock and domestic supplies in Victoria.

A Productivity Commission five-year assessment of the basin plan was critical of the July 1, 2024 timeline for a suite of Sustainable Diversion Limit projects, designed to deliver 605Gl back to the consumptive pool, labelling the timeline ‘‘highly ambitious, if not unrealistic’’.

The report raised concerns that a failure to extend the deadline could result in basin governments having to make good any shortfall in the offset, which could result in further water recovery, and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Following the release of the Productivity Commission report in September, Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said department officials were continuing to work on funding and other arrangements and he remained confident projects would begin from July 1, 2019 to ensure the projects could deliver the necessary water savings by the final 2024 timeline.

A long-awaited Shepparton East modernisation project is expected to deliver 1.2Gl of water savings towards the 9Gl goal, with the funding secured for the $11.5million project.

The project will modernise number 10 and number 11 secondary channels and related spur channels and pipelines, and automate 19km of channel, and upgrade and rationalisation 223 meter outlets.

The remaining four elements — compliance, northern basin initiatives, bridging the water recovery gap and environmental water delivery — were assessed as requiring some additional progress or better.

Although most states, including Victoria, are on track to deliver their water resource plans, the MDBA said NSW was currently behind schedule, will all of its 20 water resource plans still yet to be finalised.

The MDBA has indicated complex issues — including an independent review to regulate and licence floodplain harvesting in NSW which is due in April 2019, and work on new measures to protect environmental water — that need to be included within the water resource plans as reasons for the delay.