THE Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) progress report on implementation of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan shows the Basin Plan is working, but there is still much more work to do.
MDBA chief executive, Phillip Glyde, said the 2017 Basin Plan Evaluation had examined the first five years of Basin Plan implementation, looking at each element of the Plan to see if it was on track – what social, economic, cultural, and environmental outcomes were being seen, and where more work was needed.
“Already 2108 gigalitres of water have been recovered or contracted to be recovered for the environment, and with the expected operation of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism, the water recovery task is likely to be mostly complete,” Mr Glyde said.
“Government investments in water savings have been an important component of water recovery that has helped reduce the impact on agricultural industries and communities, and modernise irrigation infrastructure and delivery networks.”
Mr Glyde said while the Basin economy, including the agriculture sector, had continued to grow in the past five years, there were some communities that had felt the impacts of water recovery more than others.
“The Basin Plan is just one of a number of factors affecting socio-economic outcomes in Basin communities—and we will be undertaking more detailed work to better understand the impacts of the Basin Plan on communities,” he said.
Mr Glyde said the evaluation also found there were early signs the delivery of environmental water was helping revive the health of the Basin’s rivers and floodplains.
“Environmental water has so far been used in over 750 planned watering events in the past four years, with environmental water holders working together to get water to priority areas at the right time,” he said.
“There is clear evidence of positive local-scale environmental outcomes, with positive ecological responses including fish spawning and movement, enhanced bird breeding events and improvements in the health of some areas of native vegetation including River red gum forests.
“While the Evaluation findings give us confidence that the Plan is working, we have identified three key areas that need stronger efforts from the MDBA and Basin governments—the development of Water Resource Plans, stronger compliance regimes, and better ways of measuring water take.
“For our part, the MDBA will be increasing resourcing for assessing Water Resource Plans, and strengthening its compliance functions, including setting up a dedicated Compliance and Enforcement Branch to take a more proactive approach to overseeing compliance across the Basin.
“Implementation of all aspects of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism, including future work to manage constraints to environmental water delivery, as well as better protection of environmental water will also help deliver the best possible environmental outcomes from the Basin Plan.
“We urge Basin states to join us in prioritising these important areas of Basin Plan implementation, and to reaffirm their commitment to delivering the Plan in full and on time for the benefit of the Basin and its communities.”
Progress on compliance
Meanwhile, the MDBA says it is on course to deliver a stronger and more effective compliance regime across the Basin.
The MDBA and an Independent Panel recently conducted a Murray–Darling Basin Water Compliance Review at the request of the Australian Government, to assess the legislative, policy and practical implementation of compliance in water management across the Basin.
MDBA head of compliance, Russell James, said the MDBA had made good progress turning Compliance Review outcomes into tangible actions.
“The MDBA is committed to being more transparent, assertive and consistent in how we handle allegations of non-compliance,” Mr James said.
“Since November we have published an online register to report on the handling and progress of compliance matters reported to us.
“The register is now live on our website so members of the public can have confidence that reports are referred and followed up, noting report descriptions are de-identified to protect the integrity of future investigations.
“We’ve also adopted an escalation pathway that sets out when and how we will follow up on alleged breaches – and we’ve published that too.”
Mr James said the MDBA had also established an Office of Compliance to improve water compliance in line with the Basin Plan.
“And early in the new year we expect to announce the terms of reference and membership of a new independent assurance committee, which will hold the MDBA to account for its Basin Plan responsibilities,” he said.
The online register can be found at www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan-roll-out/compliance/action-compliance-review.
Copies of the evaluation report are available at www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan-roll-out/2017-basin-plan-evaluation.