Sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism projects are in doubt and releasing water from the environment for irrigators is a cause for concern, according to Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde.
Mr Glyde was responding to the authority's latest report card on how basin governments were progressing on delivering their Murray-Darling Basin Plan commitments.
He said the report card focused on the basin plan’s implementation, but there were many other elements of water reform impacting on basin communities.
“Since our last report card in June, the drought has worsened, and community tensions have increased as people question water sharing arrangements, water markets, allocations and the use of water for the environment,” Mr Glyde said.
“These are all serious issues that basin governments are working on.”
The report card provides an independent progress snapshot across six priority areas of the basin plan — water resource plans, water recovery, sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism, northern basin initiatives, compliance and delivery of environmental water.
Mr Glyde said water recovery for the basin plan was nearly finished, with less than two per cent remaining to meet the target.
However, the scarcity of water made implementing the next stage of the basin plan even more challenging.
“The sustainable diversion limit — including constraints and efficiency measures — are progressing too slowly and are now at risk,” he said.
“These major and complicated projects are important to modernise the river, and without implementation by 2024, more water will need to be recovered for the environment.”
Mr Glyde said the report card showed environmental water was working as intended in drought and being used strategically to preserve internationally significant environmental sites, create refuges for important native animals, and improve water quality in the basin.
“The recent suggestions that environmental water should be made available for irrigators is cause for concern,” he said.
“The basin plan was designed to ensure that water for the environment was used without interference or pressure as this water is vital to keep the rivers healthy, which benefits everyone.
“There’s no doubt it’s been a hard slog, especially during a drought, but all these elements are interconnected and need to move ahead together to form the foundation for a healthy and sustainable basin.”
The December 2019 Basin Plan Report Card is available at: www.mdba.gov.au/publications/mdba-reports/basin-plan-report-card
The December 2019 Water Resource Plan Quarterly Report can be found at: www.mdba.gov.au/publications/mdba-reports/water-resource-plan-quarterly-reports