A year of achieve­ment

Shepparton News - Country News - - WATER -

The past year was a land­mark year for the Mur­rayDar­ling Basin and the basin plan.

We are half­way through im­ple­ment­ing this longterm, com­plex and es­sen­tial re­form.

For the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity, this means mov­ing from be­ing the de­sign­ers and im­ple­menters of the plan to be­com­ing its re­view­ers, re­porters, and reg­u­la­tors.

The year’s achieve­ments in­cluded the suc­cess­ful pas­sage of two sets of amend­ments through the Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment. One con­cerned chang­ing some set­tings in the north­ern basin, in­tro­duc­ing new mea­sures to strengthen com­pli­ance and guard against wa­ter theft, oth­ers to pro­tect wa­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and an­other to re­duce the vol­ume of wa­ter that needed to be re­turned to the en­vi­ron­ment.

The other amend­ment con­cerned the south­ern basin and mak­ing wa­ter use smarter and more ef­fi­cient. The en­vi­ron­ment stands to ben­e­fit from the de­liv­ery of in­fra­struc­ture projects and changes to the rules about how the rivers are man­aged; and ir­ri­ga­tors will ben­e­fit be­cause 605 Gl of wa­ter stays in con­sump­tive use.

The pas­sage of th­ese amend­ments marks an im­por­tant mile­stone in basin plan im­ple­men­ta­tion. First, al­though it was sorely tested, multi-ju­ris­dic­tional, bi­par­ti­san sup­port was main­tained. This is some­thing to be cel­e­brated. Twelve years is a long time to stay the course.

With­out the com­mit­ment of all basin gov­ern­ments and both sides of pol­i­tics, this crit­i­cally im­por­tant re­form could not be achieved.

Se­condly, the amend­ment process was writ­ten into the basin plan in 2012 so that the set­tings could change to re­flect im­prove­ments in our un­der­stand­ing of how we can achieve a sus­tain­able basin with the least im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties and in­dus­tries. Far from the amend­ment process weak­en­ing the plan, it in fact demon­strates its strength.

Thirdly, it gives all basin ju­ris­dic­tions a clear and am­bi­tious work pro­gram for the next six years. I recog­nise that time­lines are tight for states to de­liver changes of this mag­ni­tude. I also recog­nise that there is con­tin­ued commentary around the 450 Gl that must be re­cov­ered by 2024 through ef­fi­ciency mea­sures that have a pos­i­tive or neu­tral so­cial and eco­nomic ef­fect.

That said, look­ing back to 2017 there were jus­ti­fi­ably wide­spread con­cerns about wa­ter theft and a lack of will on the part of some reg­u­la­tors to po­lice it.

The MDBA and an in­de­pen­dent panel con­ducted a re­view of com­pli­ance across the basin. That re­view iden­ti­fied an ur­gent need to strengthen com­pli­ance regimes. It led to a Com­pli­ance Com­pact that was en­dorsed by the prime min­is­ter, pre­miers and chief min­is­ters at the Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ments meet­ing in De­cem­ber.

NSW, which at the time of the re­view had the most catch­ing up to do, has es­tab­lished an in­de­pen­dent Nat­u­ral Re­sources Ac­cess Reg­u­la­tor, which within a year has sev­eral suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tions un­der its belt. NSW has also in­tro­duced a new me­ter­ing pol­icy, which be­gan in De­cem­ber.

Along the way, the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity also suc­cess­fully tested the use of satel­lite im­agery to keep watch over a ma­jor north­ern wa­ter­ing event, prov­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of us­ing satel­lite im­ages to help en­force com­pli­ance.

Of course, head­ing into 2019 we are all watch­ing the weather keenly. A long hot sum­mer and the po­ten­tial for a re­peat of a dry win­ter are fore­most in my thoughts. We are well aware of the tough time many peo­ple are fac­ing due to the drought.

I urge wa­ter users to plan ahead for all sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that al­lo­ca­tions do not im­prove and con­di­tions stay dry.

The com­ing year will present plenty of chal­lenges. But we head into the new year know­ing the basin plan is on a stronger foot­ing to de­liver a healthy work­ing river sys­tem for all Aus­tralians. — Neil An­drew, Chair, Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin

Au­thor­ity

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